Elkridge volunteer Tami Scovitch gave to community, now community gives back

Tami Scovitch has been in radiation treatments for five weeks but on a recent Monday morning, she was up before dawn, getting ready for a charity golf tournament to benefit the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department.

Stationed at a table with hundreds of colorful goody bags she packed herself the night before, Scovitch greeted golfers with high energy, her bright pink lipgloss outlining a broad smile. The sign-in table was a constant buzz of greetings, as volunteer firefighters, auxiliary members, neighbors and friends arrived.


It's the sixth year she's helped with the tournament, which, in addition to three purse bingo nights a year, is one of the department's biggest fundraisers.

"Today wouldn't be happening without her," said Charles Thayer, an associate member of the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department. "She always gives more to everyone. There isn't a person she hasn't helped."


"She does it all with a smile, too," added Jay Outland, an Elkridge resident and friend of Scovitch's.

Friends and colleagues say that Scovitch has been a bedrock for the fire department community in Elkridge since she started volunteering at the station 20 years ago. As president of the auxiliary and a member of the department's Board of Directors, she is a familiar face to many.

When an auxiliary member's grandson needed a surgical procedure only available in Mexico, she pulled the community together to collect $18,000 so his family could stay with him until he recovered.

Her efforts aren't just limited to the department: When a child from her church, St. Augustine, needed a wheelchair the family couldn't afford, she helped raise the funds.


"She's always the one who's held us up," said Cheryl Merson, a close friend and fellow auxiliary member.

But in January, Scovitch was diagnosed with stage IIIC breast cancer. By the time doctors identified the disease, it was invasive and had spread to lymph nodes under her arm.

Suddenly, she was the one in need of support.

Scovitch's diagnosis "shook us all very bad," Merson said.

Her community's response was to shower her with the same love she had shown them when they were down.

A $10,000 spaghetti dinner

In her years of volunteering, Scovitch has learned a lot about raising funds. Purse bingos and silent auctions have proven to be a consistent success, as have spaghetti dinners.

Normally, a successful spaghetti fundraiser will attract somewhere between 300 and 400 people, according to Scovitch.

When the fire department decided Scovitch should have one of her own in April, 500 people showed up. In one night, the department was able to raise $10,000 to help Scovitch with the cost of cancer treatments.

She has also found a support system in her former co-workers. As an employee of Giant Food, Scovitch has worked at stores throughout Howard County, including Elkridge, Columbia and Clarksville, among others. Most recently, she worked in the deli at the Columbia Giant on Centre Park Drive.

Many of the women Scovitch used to work with have been wearing pins bearing her picture; a gesture of support as she undergoes treatment.

In June, the fire department also held a dance at St. Augustine to raise money for her. The local Giant stores where Scovitch has worked pitched in, donating more than two dozen gift baskets full of goodies for a silent auction.

The support just keeps rolling in. Friends of her daughter's created a page on online fundraising website GoFundMe that garnered another $4,500; and on Oct. 18, Scovitch's sister Tracy Zack will be hosting a benefit for Scovitch at her horse boarding farm, Hunt Club Farms, in Berryville, Va.

"It's really so touching and so overwhelming to have so many people in the community be so supportive," Scovitch said of the efforts on her behalf.

"The thing about it, which is so overwhelming for me, is that's the thing that I did," she added. "To have them do it for me is so heartwarming. To be the recipient of that kindness is just so special."

Long road to diagnosis

Although Scovitch was diagnosed in January, she first suspected something wasn't right in July 2013, when she found a lump in her breast. She had had non-cancerous lumps removed before, but she decided to be safe and go in for a mammogram before her annual gynecological appointment.

The first time around, a technician didn't find anything wrong, but Scovitch still felt uneasy.

"A couple of months went by and it was still bothering me," she recalled.

So she called her doctor again, and he sent her to a surgeon, who suggested she get a biopsy for peace of mind. Scovitch agreed.

On the day of the procedure, she said she "went right out like a light" when the surgeon administered the anesthesia. When Scovitch awoke, he told her the lump was a cyst and nothing to worry about.

It was a week later, when Scovitch called the surgeon's office for her biopsy results, that she discovered she hadn't had a biopsy after all. The doctor "didn't feel it was necessary because he saw the cyst and that's what he thought it was," she said a nurse told her.

Faced with two doctors telling her she was OK, Scovitch tried to relax and forget about the lump. But a few months later, returning from a New Year's Eve outing with friends, she discovered a firm ball under her armpit. Looking in the mirror, she said, she had the feeling that "this is not right."

She called her primary care doctor, who told her to come in for an appointment that day. Another sonogram, mammogram and a biopsy confirmed what she had feared: she had breast cancer.

Scovitch said her story illustrates the importance of speaking up when it comes to your own health. In the words of her doctor, "there's nobody out there who is going to speak for you better than you."

Caught on video

In the 10 months since she was diagnosed, Scovitch has undergone a round of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and is completing radiation treatments.

Today, the cancer isn't showing up on PET scans. While there's always a chance it could come back, Scovitch is feeling hopeful.

"I'm feeling very blessed that everything's looking so good and it's moving so well," she said.

A recent video of her story, produced by St. Agnes Hospital, the Baltimore center where she gets her care, illustrates she's stayed positive through the whole ordeal.

In the video, launched to coincide with October's designation as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Scovitch's two daughters, who accompanied her to check-ups and chemo treatments, reflected on the journey.

"My mom is amazing," daughter Kristin Scovitch says in the video. "She is positive, she's honest, she's open; she's anything that you would ever wish for in a mom."

"You just have to stay positive, be positive, live positive," daughter Jessica Scovitch adds. "Cancer doesn't mean that you're dying is, I think, the biggest thing that we've learned."

Scovitch's husband, Tony Scovitch, sister Tracy Zack, retired Fire Chief Don Watson and close friend Cheryl Merson also appear in the video.


They all echoed what has by now become a common refrain: "She's just one of those people, and there's only a few of them, and she's one of them"; "Nothing slows her down"; "She's always been there for me... and she's so many other people's hero."


"She's kind of that person that you, like, magnet to," daughter Jessica says in the video, wiping back tears. "Everyone just pulls towards her, you can't help but love her."

"She's just inspirational," Barbara Daniels, the owner of Daniels Restaurant in Elkridge and a longtime friend of Scovitch's, said. "If you believe in karma, it's coming back for her."

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