San Diego State University

Former SDSU Basketball Star With Her Own Diagnosis Aids Students Affected By Cancer

Tammy Blackburn, the former SDSU basketball star and San Diego State University fundraiser, is helping students dealing with cancer while battling her own diagnosis

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The word "cancer" is enough to stop most people in their tracks but, while dealing with her own heavy diagnosis, SDSU's Tammy Blackburn is moving full speed ahead with a program she hopes will turn into a national model for student care.

Blackburn has a big resume: former SDSU basketball star and current SDSU Director of Marketing and Communications. But at the top of the list is founder of the Courage Through Cancer fund, which helps SDSU students dealing with cancer pay for tuition, housing, meals, and books.

Any student dealing with the disease themselves or in their family can apply.

Ryan Thomas, 31, who just received his masters degree in public health, is the latest student to walk across the graduation stage full of gratitude for Blackburn.

"We were at a loss for words, I was like 'Who is Tammy? this woman is amazing. I need to meet her,'" Thomas said.

Tammy Blackburn is a familiar name at San Diego State.

She was a standout on the basketball court who stayed on campus after her graduation and built a career around fundraising for her Alma Mater.

But in 2017, a breast cancer diagnosis took her fundraising skills in a new direction when she realized a gaping hole in the campus community around her -- a lack of resources for students also dealing with cancer.

"You can feel the frustration and the hurt from them. I live that hurt sometimes, I live that distress and despair sometimes, but I'm older and have more life experience and great resources. They don't have that," Blackburn said.

In Thomas' case, it was his mom's cancer diagnosis that nearly put his dreams on hold as he stepped in to care for her during her treatment. After receiving the scholarship he was able to scale back on working to juggle his studies while also remaining at his mother's side.

"Oh, I cried and my mom cried," Thomas said.

Blackburn says the fund has turned into her passion, albeit a time-consuming one.

She doesn't just fundraise and oversee it in her spare time, she gets to know the students all while dealing with her own health struggles.

My window of time I'm dealing with is shrinking, that's the reality I'm dealing with.

It's a pretty heavy burden and I worry about it more than most people know

Tammy Blackburn

Blackburn's cancer has returned. It's now stage four. She is no longer focused on beating it, but rather living with it as long as possible.

"My window of time I'm dealing with is shrinking, that's the reality I'm dealing with," Blackburn. said "It's a pretty heavy burden and I worry about it more than most people know. But when I dive into this courage through cancer fund and sit with donors through dinner, lunch and coffee and talk about the impact they can have, it's so real, they can feel it, almost, they can touch it and see it."

Thomas says Blackburn is the definition of courage.

She has a heart of an Aztec warrior pumping hope into the lives of other Aztecs around her thanks to a growing legacy built from a diagnosis and a refusal to let the disease have the final say.

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