Five months ago, Dawn Hamous began the fight of her life.
She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in July, and since then her only priority has been to save herself. As the eldest among her siblings and a self-described social butterfly, it was tough to put work, friends and family all on hold, but she had no choice.
“The initial shock was bad, so I stopped socializing,” said Hamous, 63, of Berwyn. “I stopped going on. No more having a beer, going out with the girls. I said, ‘I’m going for the cure. Whatever I have to do to get it done.”
In August, Hamous learned the cancer metastasized and affected her spine. In December, she discovered that the cancer, which was initially found in her left breast, had now spread to the right.
In the midst of planning next month’s double mastectomy and tending to medical bills, Hamous was hit with another set of news: on Dec. 31 she was forced to leave her apartment and find a new place to live.
Last month, Hamous’ landlord gave her a 30-day notice to vacate her apartment on Highland Avenue, a place she has called home for the last decade. Hamous said she is the only tenant without a lease, and her landlord recently sold the small complex to a buyer, who has plans for renovation.
“I wake up in the morning thinking about what I’m going to do, where I’m going to go,” she said. “I don’t want to stay here until the sheriff knocks on my door. I’m not a squatter. I paid my rent until the end of the month.”
At this point, Hamous has packed up most of her belongings. A pile of small boxes are stacked near the entrance of her apartment. All that’s left are knick-knacks, clothes and some pieces of furniture.
On days when she feels strong enough, Hamous hunts for apartments online or drives around Berwyn on the lookout for “for rent” signs. Because of her health, she’s forced to narrow her options. She needs an apartment to be on the ground level, since regularly walking up and down the stairs wears her out. But what she worries about most is whether her new apartment can accommodate her two cats, Little Kitty and Kuda, and her dog, Pookie.
“It’s been nerve-wracking,” Hamous said. “You’re scared, and you’re wondering what’s going to happen next. I was just telling my girlfriend earlier on the phone that I don’t want anything else to happen that’s negative. I can’t have anymore obstacles.”
For Mary Ellen Budas, seeing her friend go through these challenges is tough. While she often accompanies Hamous to her chemotherapy sessions, the 69-year-old Budas calls and texts daily, sharing messages of hope as a reminder to stay resilient.
“She’s a salmon swimming upstream,” Budas said. “We just wait on God to see what he’s going to do here. I know he’ll call through for her.”
Cindy Krawcyzk thought back to the days when she and Hamous were in their 20s, living life to the fullest, always going out to dance. Throughout their 40-year friendship, Krawcyzk knew Hamous as someone who liked to “have a good time” and had a strong, independent personality, which has and always will carry her through any struggle.
Before cancer, Hamous’ life was busy. She dubbed herself a “Jane of all trades” and worked for several companies and entities, including the city of Berwyn, filling in for secretarial, financial or administrative duties. Hamous liked to sing and looked forward to hosting karaoke nights at the local bars.
“I just want to go back to my normal life,” she said. “I just want to go back to my life, and I know I have to struggle to get back.”
Inside Hamous’ bedroom, a wooden vanity sits next to her bed. Eye shadow, blush and lipstick are scattered on top, different colors to fit different days. Hamous said it’s the little things – putting on makeup, getting dressed, going to the grocery store or hanging with friends – that has helped her feel normal. Although she isn’t sure what will happen to her, she knows she can’t afford to stop moving.
“I think to myself if I don’t do some of the things I was doing before, then I’m losing myself,” Hamous said.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Hamous pay for her moving and medical expenses. So far, the page has raised $1,195 of the $5,000 goal. Anyone interested in contributing can visit the page at www.gofundme.com/dawn039s-breast-cancer-survival-fund.