Tracie Cone has always been a trailblazer. This award-winning journalist is the former California Newspaper Executive of the Year. She shares a Pulitzer Prize with fellow staff members at the Miami Herald for coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and has twice been nominated individually. She has focused her writing on helping the underdog and empowering those without a strong voice of their own. Now she takes us on the fight of her life.
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Bringing you up to speed

Hello Everyone:

I don’t mean for this to be a way to avoid personal contact with all of you, or for you to stealthily check in on my well-being without saying hello. I hope that by doing the thing I love – writing – I can make sense of what’s happening to me. I also hope you’ll be able to read between the lines to ensure that, even if I’m feeling poorly as these next six months unfold, my “I’m going to kick cancer’s ass” attitude that I feel now remains intact.

I’m also writing as a warning. That question asked women at the beginning of every annual exam: “Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family?” gave me a false sense of security for all of these decades. I wish I had never been asked. As the radiologist who performed my biopsies said, “Family history has to start somewhere.” Yay me.

My family doctor in Fresno found a lump in my right breast on May 3, 2010, as we were chatting about the death that morning of Lynn Redgrave – from breast cancer. She froze, stopped the physical, and called to get me an appointment the next day at the imagining facility. “Make it today,” I demanded. She did.

After the mammogram they ordered an ultrasound and asked if I had a friend who could come sit with me. I knew then it was bad. A woman in the waiting room said she would pray.

I didn’t know the extent until the ultrasound technician focused on a lump under my armpit. Oh. My. God. There were two. I shook uncontrollably. Rigors, it’s called. Michelle, who had been holding my hand, began to panic. I had a biopsy before I left the building. “Your life is about to change dramatically,” the radiologist said.

I’ve lived in fear of cancer my entire life, which some say might have caused it. I can’t remember not knowing what the word meant. My mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was five. Later, when I learned it was my birth sign, I felt I was doomed. Finding it was almost a relief.

As I sit here two days before chemo starts, it still doesn’t feel real. I’m healthy and active. No tiredness, no pain. Then the indignity of a sleepless nights and dazed days, with my breast that never gave me a hint of trouble now throbbing in pain from eight core samples extracted with a needle. Mocking me. “You idiot. That’s what you get for being 5 months late for your exam.”

The first night I could not sleep. At 3 a.m., the hour when everything seems gloomiest, I emailed my old friend Fawn Germer, an author and speaker who knows everyone. Fuck, fuck, fuck, she wrote back 30 minutes later. Sometimes it’s nice to have friends in distant time zones. She knows someone who can help, she emails later, and hooked me up with a friend of hers at the National Cancer Centers Network. She got me to Dr. Robert Carlson at Stanford, who chaired the esteemed panel that wrote the breast cancer treatment protocols. He had an available appointment in two weeks. Not soon enough for me! He ended up seeing me the following Monday, one week after my diagnosis, on a day he doesn’t keep clinic hours. A good sign! Because of my otherwise good health, he recommended a clinical trial that is brutal, but potentially very effective. He said if I were his sister, he’d recommend the same thing. I felt relieved.

I already had stopped drinking, eradicated sugar, flour, yeasts and fungi from my diet, and began cleansing my body so that all systems can focus on surviving chemotherapy. There is a theory that cancer cells can’t grow in an alkaline environment, so I eliminated acid foods, too (you can find them on line). I found Lynn, a life coach, who keeps my attitude positive. It felt good to be in control of something.

My type of cancer is HER2 pos, which affects only one-quarter of women and is the most difficult to eradicate. It’s not hormone receptive, so it takes a lot of chemo to kill the cells. The trial throws in another drug that currently is used down the road, if the cancer metasticizes to the brain. The thought is if they give it up front, it will stop those rouge cells, too, and prevent a recurrence. Then I’ll get a year of Herceptin, a drug that turns off the receptor that makes my kind of cancer grow.

My boss at AP wanted me to go out on disability to focus on getting well, so I did. Sadly. I love my job and my colleagues and was just beginning to find my place there.

I had surgery at Stanford the following Tuesday to install a power port in my chest (it delivers chemo through my jugular to my heart), plus an MRI, CT scan, and echocardiogram. Chemo starts May 25, four years and one day after my dad’s death from prostate cancer. They will monitor me throughout the next 20 weeks to make sure the tumors are shrinking and my heart stays strong. I am scared, but eager to start.

From diagnosis to chemo took three weeks, a remarkably short time. If a doctor offered an appointment two weeks out, I asked for a cancellation the next day. If a radiologist asked me to come back the next day for a biopsy, I said “let’s do it now.” It’s aggressive, so I have to be more aggressive than it is.

So that, my friends, brings you up to speed. Sort of. I’ve left out my periods of fear and doubt, and my worry that I’ll be a burden on Michelle. I should not have left out the part about being able to really and truly feel the love that Michelle, my family and friends have for me. And I’ve omitted all of the signs from God and the Universe that I ultimately will be OK.

I will share this one: I was depressed one day when Fawn called, as she does nearly every day. “Go look out the window,” she said, “and find one sign that says you are going to be fine.” So I walked my pitiful self to the kitchen and looked out. There, long after California’s rainy season should have ended, was the biggest, brightest, most complete rainbow I have ever seen.

That, my friends, is my sign. The journey will be tough, but I will survive. The trial I will endure might some day save the lives of others. And my success will give hope.

These things I truly believe. And you should, too.

Love, Tracie

3 Responses to “Bringing you up to speed”

  • lynn helderman:

    Well said my friend……

  • Christie Kissinger:

    We love you Tracie and will be rooting for you and praying for you and will cherish those signs along the way for you as you beat this…your blog is a great inspiration for all!

  • Melissa Kenney:

    Your attitude is awesome! I have always had great respect for you but never as much as I do now! You are an inspiration to many and you will be as you remain strong willed and do all you can to fight this. You can do it, I know you can cause your my cuz and you can do anything. I love you and I think of you and pray for you daily. I’m glad you have a great partner and a loving family and many friends to help you and encourage you.

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