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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Regrets? I have a few.

What causes cancer? That is the billion-dollar question.

What caused my breast cancer? That is something I ponder many times when my mind is left alone to wander.

I am not genetically predisposed to breast cancer, so heredity is out. I guess that leaves environmental causes and stress.

Who knows what I’ve been exposed to over the course of my lifetime? I grew up in the age of DDT, eating packaged foods with mercury-based fillings in my teeth. I’ve dyed my hair, took birth control pills for a while way back when, and even ate snail bait when I was a toddler. I’ve spent long hours soaking in chlorine pools (though I switched our home pool to salt three years ago to, ironically, avoid risking cancer) and spent too many hours in the sun. I’ve skied in the Catawba River in Belmont, N.C., and who knows what manner of pesticides and herbicides have run off into it, not to mention sewage from countless small towns along its banks? I haven’t always eaten organically. I’ve consumed more alcohol than is generally recommended, though my red wine consumption should have canceled it out.

On the other hand I’ve been a vegetarian for 28 years, eaten organically for 10, ridded my body regularly of parasites under the theory that they can compromise cell structure and lead to cancer.

Stress, however, is another matter. It is something I have never been able to manage (or even tried), until now. I have freaked at family illnesses and catastrophes, looming deadlines and lots of other things over which I have had no control, like traffic jams and tone-deaf editors. Stress was my caffeine. The more I had the harder I worked.

When I look back at the biggest source of stress over the past decade, it was owning my own business, a newspaper in Hollister CA. I worked hard and was the “bad cop” in the good cop, bad cop relationship that my then-partner and I had with the community. I took the hard stands, politically and editorially, while she stayed in the background making nice. I had the target on my back, a stressful position in a small town. Our editorials for slowing growth in the face of several environmental catastrophes earned us the ire of some pro-growth good ol’ boys, and one particular vicious attack attempting to drive us out of business landed us on the front pages of many newspapers, including the LA Times. That one got us a movie deal (never made). I wondered aloud often whether the stress would kill me, but worried about my heart more than cancer.

The idea was that we would work hard and build the business into something we could sell, then do something with a lifestyle that would be kinder to me. (Winemaking) During all those years I never had a vacation and hardly saw my friends or family. My health suffered, mentally and physically. I figured I could unwind when it was over.

Then at the end of the run there was the Big Deception. A complete and devastating violation of human decency by the person I trusted the most. It was the most stressful time of my life.

Two-and-a-half years later I have cancer. Was it stress upon stress? Snail poison? Birth control pills? Pesticides. A little bit of all of it? There is absolutely no way to know.

If I could go back and change anything, would I? That’s the question.

Life is full of good and bad experiences that shape us, and I’m all about collecting them. Everything I have experienced has brought me to where I am now, and I’ve never been in a better place, figuratively speaking.

My regret? That I did not do a better job of managing the stress when times were tough. I tell that now to one of my beautiful nieces, the one who possesses some of my personality traits, including high anxiety. No matter how terrible I thought something was then, no matter how many hours I lay awake worrying, I realize now that it was all a matter of perspective.

Because when it comes right down to it, no matter how impossible tasks seem, they either get done – or they don’t. Then life goes on. I can’t even remember now most of what kept me awake all of the nights I fretted away.

Today, with the benefit of a deadly disease to give me perspective, little bothers me. I’m more patient. Now I consider that the slow driver ahead might just have learned she has cancer. Perhaps she is trying to hold her shit together until she can get home and collapse. You never know what someone else is going through (even tho they still just may be a really bad driver).

A few weeks ago I was in San Francisco waiting with friends for a cab we had called that hadn’t showed. As I sat on the stoop contentedly watching tourists my friend, frustrated, warned me that an AWOL cab wasn’t worth stressing over.

Fresh out of the hospital from a chemo overdose, my bald head bundled against the blustery breeze, I heartily agreed.

What, me worry?

4 Responses to “Regrets? I have a few.”

  • Abis BF:

    Boy T,
    Are you right about this…..I am forwarding this to everyone I love. Stress IS the Cword to !!!! Thankyou for reminding us all !! As I sit on my patio overlooking the water and the wildlife I’ll be thinking of this blog and thanking you for reminding us all that the AWOL cab is simply just that,
    We love you,
    Abi’s BF and David

  • Lee Q:

    Sweetie: I hope you are or are considering getting your stuff published — even syndicated, perhaps via The AP (we always capitalized the “T” in “The AP” when I worked in the Seattle [SE] bureau oh so many years ago). Please, if you’ve not done so, get Tracie Fights Back out to the Rest Of The World. –Love, Lee

    ps. I think you can mostly put the blame on those tone-deaf editors.

  • Elaine H.:

    Thanks for sharing your great insight and wisdom into the importance of dealing with the stress that occurs in our lives. You always make me think and want to do a better job of taking care of myself and others.
    How many times have I taken a swim in or eaten fish from the Catawba River…yikes!
    Love your “What, me worry?” photo.

  • Sue Morrow:

    First, I love your photograph. ;)
    Second, as I read this post, I heartily agree with LQ. Your blog needs to get published beyond here. No question. You are truly helping people with your insights.
    Lastly, I will take tour advice of less stress and perspective to grad school with me. I will enjoy it and not stress out. Shit will get done and I’m going to have fun doing it. That’s my vow. Thanks to you, Tracie. Xoxox s.

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