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 Fear of Work

One of these days I’ll wake up and physically feel like returning to my job. Psychologically, however, it’s going to be tough.

I left work on the day of my diagnosis — May 3, 2010 — and never went back. My editors were great. “Your only job should be getting well,” they said time and again. So I threw myself at it, focusing on ridding my body of cancer in every conceivable way.

Diet changes, exercise, obsessive ingredient label reading to avoid the carcinogens that fill so many health and beauty products, detoxes, reflexology, alkaline foods, meditation, visualization, the list goes on and on. Plus the clinical trial at Stanford that gave me pills and three kinds of chemo. Plus radiation. Plus a double mastectomy.

Getting well has been my fulltime job. I get up in the morning and start working on getting healthier and go to bed early so I’ll get enough sleep.

Sometimes I believe that I had such a good response to my treatment because I willed the cancer away.

So going back to work, or doing anything that makes staying healthy less than a fulltime mission is frightening to me. I don’t want to take my focus off of my health, my fulltime job for the past 11 months and the most important job I’ve ever had.

I’m afraid, truth be told, that if I let up my vigilance, if my focus turns to something else even for just eight hours a day, I’ll be letting down my guard and the cancer can sneak back in.

The thought of that scares the heck out of me.

I talked about that fear last week with a psychiatrist at Stanford. Well, I told her that it was something that keeps me awake at night. She thought about it for a long while before responding.

“But aren’t you far more in-tune with your body now? Don’t you think you’ll notice if something changes?”

The thought that I could tell if cancer reappeared made me feel better, though I’m not sure it’s true. And now that I’m writing this I realize that my fear is that a reduced focus would allow that to happen. If it comes back I have to do this all again.

So that’s my dilemma. I’m still too tired and weak to go back to work, but when the day comes – and I hope I am closing in on it – I hope I can devote the required amount of attention to both my health and my career.

I’d like to think I will succeed at both.

For Emily:
I’m sad today over the passing of a woman with HER2 positive breast cancer, the same cancer I battle. I didn’t even know Emily – she’s the sister of a friend of my good friend and supporter Bryan. But her battle was my battle. She was diagnosed many months after me, read my blog and was heartened by my success. One person’s success means someone else can do it too. Likewise, someone’s death frightens us all. She didn’t respond to the treatment like I did and this insidious, aggressive form of breast cancer spread even while she was on chemotherapy. I don’t know all of the details, but from diagnosis until her death today was about six months.

I hate cancer. I hate the sickness and sorrow and grief it causes. I hate that wonderful people with friends and family who love them have to suffer.

And I’m scared.

3 Responses to “My Fear of Work”

  • Abi's BF:

    The world needs your slant on all that is going on around us. Your experience has only made you wiser, a boon those of us that read your articles. I can’t wait to read your first piece…..
    You have been given an amazing talent……..use it if not for you then for us !!!

  • Kim Williams:

    I love your honesty Tracie. The photo of you is beautiful!!!! Trust yourself. xoxo

  • Michelle Johnson:

    Hi! I’ve been thinking about you and wondering where you were. Then I had the bright idea that your blog might have the answer, and it did. I am glad to know you’re OK and making progress, and the tequila trip in your most recent post sounds awesome. AP will be here when you are ready, and we’ll be happy to have you back.

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