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 Make-A-Wish Trip

Me, Fran and Michelle waiting to get inside the Daily Show studio in NYC.

Backstage at the Daily Show on our private tour.

Everybody loves a survivor. Not everybody gets to survive.

I’m convinced that setting goals and having something to look forward to helps get cancer patients through the tough times.

Take our trip last weekend to New York City, for instance. Last August, while I was in the throes of chemo, my friend and old editor Fran Smith came from NY to visit for a few days. On the flight out she said she tried to think of something to do for me that would give me something to look forward to. She said she thought of tickets to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

I love him and love the show. Laughter can get someone through cancer treatment. Who knew it was the hardest ticket to get in town? Certainly not Fran when she thought aloud that she would like to do that for me.

Poor Fran was stuck. How would she ever pull that off? I, on the other hand, blissfully looked forward to the day I could get on a plane and travel again – to see Jon Stewart!!!!

Michelle and I talked about it constantly. It was this abstract goal, and its achievement would mean I was getting back to being my old self.

Fran must have been panicking until the moment she scored, which was on the second-worst day of my cancer life. I’ve said before, there are no coincidences in cancer recovery. As Michelle and I were driving to Stanford for my double mastectomy, alternately in silence and sobbing, Fran called.

Fran was at a silent auction for the National Audubon Society, where her husband David (and our former managing editor at the Mercury News) had just taken over as CEO/President. There amongst a table full of bird etchings was the prize: four VIP tickets to the Daily Show and a backstage tour. She called giddy when she won the auction, boosting my spirits as I headed into the procedure that forever would alter how my body looks.

During recuperation we planned our trip for Valentine’s Day. Surely I would have enough energy to walk around the city by then, I thought.

The trip became more than simply a travel goal. Making it to the show would represent 10 months of life-saving struggles behind me.

Just being there overwhelmed me and my eyes kept welling with tears. We had four of the 30 VIP tickets in a studio of 210 people. We sat on the side, in what would be Stewart’s line of sight when he interviewed his guest.

But first, the warm-up act. Comedian Paul Mercurio, an Emmy and Peabody-winning writer for the show, came out to coach us on how loudly we had to laugh to be a good laugh track. We couldn’t quite get it (you have to be really loud because the mics in the audience are at half the volume has Stewart’s). Then Mercurio said something funny and I was the only one who laughed. Very loudly.

He spun around and made eye contact with me. “That’s how loud you have to be, like the woman in the green scarf.”

For a split second I froze as all eyes turned on me. This was my moment. I had to seize it.

So I stood up, threw my arms out wide and exuberantly said “This is my Make-A-Wish trip.”

The audience erupted in applause. For me!!!

And it was the beginning of a sustained exchange between me and Mercurio, who of course had to complain that cancer isn’t funny. I got to thank Fran and David for getting the tickets that landed us there, I talked about my hair and how everyone in NYC just thought I was fashionable, not a patient recovering from chemo. He would talk to others in the audience, but kept coming back to me. He asked me if I had a partner or husband, and I put my arm around Michelle and told him she’s my partner. “Oh, and you’re gaaaayyyyy? That’s even better,” he said before making a risqué joke about me and cancer.

“I need your email address,” he eventually said, borrowing a pen and piece of paper from someone in the audience. He’ll be in Sacramento in April and invited Michelle and me to come.

For a long while, I was the center of attention. And that wasn’t even the best part of the experience. Of course there was a very funny Daily Show episode — and we all laughed loudly.

Then as we filed out of the studio a funny thing happened in New York. People I didn’t even know came up to me and wished me luck. A woman who works for the show gave me a long hug and said her aunt is fighting breast cancer now. Others said they would think good thoughts.

Everybody hates cancer. It’s not funny. But to be in a place where I can laugh at some of my experiences shows me how far I have come.

8 Responses to “My Make-A-Wish Trip”

  • Bryan:

    For those of us who knew you before your diagnosis and for the folks who have come to know you because of it this story is the best news ever. To be able to laugh at what the last year has brought you means that the old Tracie, the intelligent and spirited and witty and fabulous woman you were before cancer (the one who got you through it actually) is back with a vengeance! Your sense of humor is back (though we did have some good laughs in the throes of it all at Stanford…hello Mad Crapper!). Despite the fact that it lagged way behind the return of your beautiful smile and just a few weeks behind the hair on your head I think it is the best harbinger for your new day. Congratulations my friend on this new day. No one ever doubted you. We are all overjoyed to see it arrive.

  • Bryan:

    Small addendum: you were always intelligent and spirited and witty and fabulous. But girl, you lost a spark, your Tracie-ness for several months during chemo. Reading that back made me feel bad for not qualifying it. I’m not quite sure how to explain what that means but I am pretty sure that people with first-hand chemo experience will get it. You still talk about chemo brain, that’s sort of what I mean by that. It wasn’t until after your surgery that your smile looked like your smile again…and yesterday it looked even more like your smile, especially with your chic new NYC hair do. So yeah, welcome back my faux sis, I love you lots

  • Linda:

    Tracie – I am so thrilled to hear that your long awaited trip to New York was every bit as wonderful, and maybe even more wonderful than you could have hoped for. Love to you, Michelle and my 3 furry friends from sunny (hot) SA.

  • Judi:

    You are amazing….and love the new “do”. You look GREAT.

  • Elaine Hoover:

    Thank you for taking us along on your New York adventure. You look great in the pictures and your smile just lights up the blog and our hearts! Fran rocks!

  • Ma Frizz:

    Tracie… being a 21 year survivor and going through the chemo and radiation etc… I feel your pain… Just keep in mind that you can DO this. I always admired your strength and sense of humor even through some of your darkest times. Know that you are loved and are in our prayers.

    By the way! Some people do not look so good with hairless heads but you look fabulous! Actually, you look downright beautiful!!! We’re in your corner, my friend.

  • Kimberly Fields:

    First, and foremost…did you bring me back a fridge magnet from NYC? Second, as long as I have known you (and that is quite a long time, 23 years) you have always been the center of attention. Not that you command it but rather you have always had a way about that just makes people gravitate toward you. It must be your magnetic personality! Everything in your life has changed except you. You have never changed, a bit sidetracked, but you have always remained true to yourself. You have taught everyone that being an upstanding woman is the greatest strength of all and that is why everyone has stood up for you.(including the crowd at the Jon Stewart show) After all of the schooling I have put myself through in my life, you are still the greatest teacher I have ever known. What can I say? I, like everyone else who has ever met you, am completely smitten with you. I cannot wait to see you both in a few weeks!

  • Kim Williams:

    Ha! Love this story!!! (and I think I’m in love with your friend Bryan too – he’s got a way with words, doesn’t he?) In fact, all of your friends impress me with the support they’ve given, (Fran – that was amazing!). I’m so happy for you, xo

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