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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My Blistered Esophagus (or Read The Labels)

That’s a painful header, but I’ve got blisters in my mouth and throat that feel worse than the worst strep throat I ever have suffered. I’m loath to write about more pain, but that’s the cycle I’m in. I keep waiting for another adventure, or something funny to happen to me, but when chemo and drugs seemingly blister one’s esophagus and digestive tract it’s hard to find the humor in anything.

So here I sit with a sea salt gargle, unable to eat solid food.

With one chemo left to go, my will to repeat this two weeks from today is running short. Isn’t the cancer gone by now? Does one more really make that big of a difference? But you’ve only got one more, Tracie. Why would you not complete what you started, especially when you’ve come this far and endured so much? Buck up, Buckaroo.

It’s so hard.

Three months ago I could spin at the gym, power walk four miles without breaking a sweat and drink shots of tequila until 3 a.m. Now I sit on the edge of my bed in the mornings wondering if I even can get down the stairs to my spot on the sofa. On some days I just give up and sink back into my pillow.

This is what the verge of death feels like, I imagine, and it’s a scary place. I saw it in my dad, who passed from prostate cancer four years ago. I saw it in my mom, my inspiration, who has survived two rare types of heart attacks to swim and go to the gym again.

So I spend my dark hours making promises to myself: you will be fit again, you will practice moderation, you will stay positive, relaxed, and meditate on a healthy body healing itself forevermore. My friend Tony says I’m Steve Austin and will return – rebuilt and renewed — faster and stronger. I like that thought and pray it’s true. I’m going to add “smarter” and “more mindful” of what goes in and on my body.

There’s a story in the NY Times today about the conflicting studies performed on potential adverse health effects caused by disphenol-A, or BPA, the chemical used to create plastic bottles. It’s an endocrine disruptor that can act as hormones do and, some say, can cause breast and prostate cancers.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants it banned, but the chemical lobby is strong. The European Union has banned it as a precaution. Better safe than sorry is their attitude. But there’s a line in the story about the US approach that made the few hairs left on my arms stand on end: “The United States takes the opposite approach: chemicals are not banned unless there is proof of harm.”

We all know that “harm” can take a lifetime of to figure out through exhaustive tests and anecdotal evidence. Meanwhile we are this generation of guinea pigs of the companies who profit by making and unleashing unproven chemicals and other adulterated substances on our planet. (I repeat my plug here to avoid bovine growth hormones if you drink milk. They are linked to breast cancer, yet dairy farmers are allowed to use it to boost production. Read the carton labels to find rbgh-free.)

So today I’m in pain, angry and need a target so I’m going to blame corporate greed for my blistered esophagus. It’s not just meat and plastic. I found known carcinogens among the ingredients listed on an “organic” face cream sold at Macy’s.

My blistered esophagus and I are (so-far) living proof that the price we sometimes pay for beauty and convenience can end up being neither a thing of beauty nor convenient.

I wore my wig (for just the second time) to Michelle's bday dinner pretending to feel better than I did. I had to stop and rest on this bench on the way to the car. M's mom is in the middle.

I couldn’t take my trial drug pills today. I just couldn’t get he Lapatinib horse-sized tablets down my throat, which seems swollen. I missed them once during the last round too for essentially the same reason. But my goal is to take them tomorrow, or maybe tonight if the pain and swelling subsides.

7 Responses to “My Blistered Esophagus (or Read The Labels)”

  • Sue:

    I am so sorry you’re feeling so awful, but very glad you are writing about it. I was hoping the picture of the OU slanket/snuggie would give you a chuckle. What if I got the matching slippers and sock hat? A belt perhaps? You know what they say about accessorizing.
    Hope you’re feeling better soon, Tracie. I think of you every day with love. I know you will get through this. XOXOXOX s.

  • Elaine Hoover:

    I just hate that you continue to feel such pain. I know it meant a great deal to Michelle to have you join in the celebration on her special day. You and Tony have the right idea…rebuilt and renewed…faster and stronger…
    smarter and more mindful…you are on your way to all of those things and taking the rest of us along with you. Keep the faith, dear friend. We believe in you.

  • Richard Johnson:


    Again you inspire through your writing by reminding me how strong you are, even when it is so hard. You will make it through this. All of us who know and love you know that. I only hope that there’s some comfort for you through our words and thoughts.

    Once more and then you can move to the next stage of the journey.

  • Juliana:

    Hi Tracie —

    so glad to see you are still reading and thinking and finding the energy to get angry at misbehaving corporations — in spite of all you’re going through. Reading this is what makes me so sure that though this treatment is a battering ram, you’re in there, holding strong, ready to jump back and call out malfeasance as soon as this next round is over and you can get back on your feet.
    I keep thinking of you guys and hoping all is going as well as possible. Things ARE progressing — even if at times ‘progress’ means steps as small as just knowing one day is following the next and taking you one little bit closer to the end of this.
    Take care,


  • Bryan:

    Seriously T, one more. You can do it! If you couldn’t you would have given up months ago. We’re all pulling for you, from Michelle to Madagascar. Big love from SF as (hopefully) you’re spirits are rising after the chemo.

  • brenda:

    On my last round of strep, my Dr wrote a script for a lidocain mouth rinse… Asks yours

  • Cindy Frye:

    We had several comments about your post on Charlie’s Caring Bridge and you said to him we can do this, we can do this. You can Tracie. You can you will you must. It’s bad mamajamma but it works. You gots to. I am so sorry you have developed this side effect too. Geez, I am a wimpy whiney if I get strep and this sounds much worse. Hang in there, you can you must.

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