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.
Contact Tracie

Pathology (and a Passing)

I had a long and productive day at Stanford yesterday, including my second round of Herceptin.

First, Dr. Carlson was back from his sabbatical.

I was worried when he left in July, but of course I was in the capable hands of his PA Kate Pose, the most organized and efficient person in the business, and Dr. Mollick, aka Dr. Nice. But in hindsight it’s kind of cool he was gone during the awful grind of the last months of chemo, trial drugs and the bilateral mastectomy. He could assess the big picture and see me stronger on the other side. On Tuesday he called my response to the treatment so far “wonderful.” And he smiled when he said it. Can’t do better than that.

The pathology report on the breast and lymph glands taken by the surgeon show that cancer in the breast is dead, and just a speck remained in the sentinel lymph, the first drainage stop for the breast. Dr. Carlson said the other 6 lymph nodes looked clear. While that is a good sign, it doesn’t relieve our worries or negate the need for radiation. Not a lot is known about how the lymph system and cancer work, I’m told. Did the cells even move past the sentinel gland, or did they bypass all of them and go someplace else? Of course, the chemo and the Lapatinib are designed to track them down. Dr. Carlson said I would receive radiation to my chest wall, naturally, but also to the lymph glands that remain in my right arm and the ones in my upper chest leading to my head.

The danger is that it can kill those fluid-draining glands and leave me more susceptible to lymphedema, which, if established, would leave my right arm looking like the front leg of an elephant. Not pretty and not very functional.

So, when I mentioned my worry to Dr. Carlson, he had a plan (as he always does). A cardiologist at Stanford is an expert in the condition and is conducting a study to attempt to identify the lymphedema in its earliest stages to head it off. He said I would be a good candidate. Katie wrote up the referral and the scheduler called me by the end of the day!

The woman who sets up appointments said that the doctor is very popular because of his specialty and appointments are “a long way out.”

But I’m Tracie Cone, lucky in cancer,” I thought very loudly.

A few seconds later she said, “Wait, I have a cancellation for this Thursday. Can you make it?” Of course!

Lucky me.

I am sad about the passing from cancer of someone I’ve come to think of as a friend, though I never met him in person. Charlie Frye lived in Belmont, N.C., where I went to high school and my mom, sister and her family still reside. Charlie attended my niece’s wedding in June and I met him when they skyped the wedding and reception to me. He was my inspiration: recently through with chemotherapy as I was just starting. There he was dancing and holding a glass of wine! He gave me hope that I would emerge to dance again at the end of all of this. His sweet wife, Cindy, became an email penpal, offering me lots of prayers and encouragement these past long months.

A month ago Charlie took a turn for the worst. He spent the last week in ICU in a Charlotte hospital as the cancer spread through his lungs. My niece Paige called me Monday to say he had passed that day.

I used to read obituaries in the paper. I stopped since my diagnosis because I hate to hear when cancer takes another life. I’m sad for people I don’t know, and sad for me, too. It’s scary for sure, especially when it’s this man, who gave me hope.

Charlie was a fighter, as I am. I’m glad I got to know him, even if it was through our mutual bond of disease. If you have a connection with God, please pray for Cindy and his family.

And Charlie, I’ll keep fighting.

3 Responses to “Pathology (and a Passing)”

  • Elaine Hoover:

    So glad to here the good news from Stanford. Keep fighting, precious friend. Cindy and her family are in my prayers.

  • Steve Poston:


    Best wishes and continued GOOD LUCK !! Much Love from the Postons. Steve and Lil

    Go get em girl!!

  • Cindy Frye:

    Hi Tracie. BELIEVE me that you and all our fellow cancer patient friends and families remain in my daily prayers. PRAYING FOR A CURE. I thank you so much for this sweet and thoughtful post regarding Charlie. I have not been on facebook much, which is where I regularly see your blog. And actually it was not until I received a card from Walter and Teri that I knew this post was here, thank you. But, even though I have not posted does not mean I am not caring. I am pulling for you 100% all the way to make it and believe that you will. I believe it is our duty to lift each other up and to pass along the reality, as well as the hope to each other. Thank you for doing both through your blog. We will NEVER give up hope that there be a cure. And I will NEVER give up praying for those that are going through this. Lifting you up tonight, Cindy

Leave a Reply

Meet Tracie
Copyright 2010 by Tracie Cone. All rights reserved.