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Buddy Check: Breast cancer behind the badge

KPD Investigator Phyllis Tonkin is using her breast cancer diagnosis to help others.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Knoxville Police Department officer's fight with breast cancer went beyond the badge. Now, she's offering a helping hand and advice to others who are going through a similar diagnosis.

Investigator Phyllis Tonkin was in the best shape of her life in 2017. She completed the "Dopey Marathon Challenge" and felt like she was on top of the world. In 2018, a breast cancer diagnosis changed her life.

Credit: Phyllus Tonkin

Tonkin never takes a moment for granted now. She wears her role in the special crimes unit and being a breast cancer survivor as badges of honor.

"You know sometimes dealing with that is a lot more difficult than dealing with cancer," Tonkin noted.

After feeling a lump during a self-exam, she trusted her instincts and headed to the doctor.

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"So I knew what I had in my heart, in my mind that gut feeling that officers have," Tonkin explained.

After her diagnosis, she had a lumpectomy and powered through 33 rounds of radiation. All the while, she documented the whole process through selfies.

"And I figured that I was going to make it the best road that I could," Tonkin smiled. "I could be negative, I could be down on myself, I could be depressed, I could go through all those emotions but I chose personally that I'm going to make it the best that I can."

She said her family, faith and the support from KPD is what gave her strength through the tough process.

"They said 'we love you and we are going to get through this, don't worry about what we have in front of us as far as all the caseloads and things like that, you need to take care of you,'" Tonkin said.

The department's beard and lapel fundraiser for 2019 raised $4,500 for breast cancer research alone and over $14,000 overall.

Tonkin's coworkers even designed "Team Tonkin" shirts to show they had her six.

Credit: WBIR

"I work for the best department in the world," Tonkin added.

In the 18 years she worked at KPD, she's thankful for the pink ribbon she gets to add to that thin blue line.

"I think every time I take a breath is my reminder how blessed I am to have my life, to take my selfies, because that makes me stronger," Tonkin said.

Investigator Tonkin encourages everyone to do their breast self-exam and their mammograms because that's what saved her life.

She said if you see her in public, feel free to take a selfie with her too!


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