In April 2013 Tracy felt a lump in her breast and went to see a GP. She had a mammogram and ultrasound. The conclusion was that she had multiple cysts but nothing to indicate malignancy (i.e. cancer). She was also told that the cysts would gradually fill with fluid and become more painful, at which stage, she might want to have them drained. With this reassuring news, Tracy became less concerned with her breast and more concerned with finding out "the real reason" why she felt so unwell.
With a strong family history of colon cancer, she had a colonoscopy and endoscopy in October 2013. These too gave her the all clear. In the meantime Tracy’s back began to cause her significant pain, so in November 2013 she went to see a chiropractor. After 6 weeks of treatment things were still getting worse, and her pain seemed to be moving all around her body.
Still searching for answers in January 2014, Tracy went to another GP to get a referral for a CT scan on her back. The scan came back showing lesions (tumours) all down her spine, including one that had fractured her T12 vertebrae!!! What!?!
We were all in shock. She had Cancer! We didn’t know what sort or where it was (you can watch Tracy tell her story, including how she felt when she found out she had Cancer, here.)
A breast biopsy and many other scans and tests followed in a week of diagnosis that confirmed our worst fears. Tracy has Advanced Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage 4) that has spread through almost every bone in her body, from her skull down to her legs. Her cancer is highly aggressive and oestrogen sensitive, which means it is thriving in her young body (yes mid-forties is young for breast cancer).
How had this happened, and so quickly? We’d barely recovered from the shock that she had cancer let alone one that had spread so far. And yet … now it seemed so obvious that she had been walking around in such intense pain, trying to be strong just like she always is, yet all the while not being quite her usual self. Now it seemed obvious that she had not been herself for quite some time and that, unfortunately, there was a damn good reason. She wasn’t just stressed out from being so busy running around helping everyone else all the time.
Tracy knew that she wasn’t well and she was right to keep looking for an answer, but it doesn’t seem right that it wasn’t found earlier. If we knew in April 2013 what we know now Tracy would have insisted on a biopsy. Unfortunately though, if you haven’t been through breast cancer (or know someone who has) you are unlikely to know that most breast cancer in young women can be very hard to detect by mammogram/ultrasound in its early stages, and yet, it is even more critical that it is detected early. Most young women get a same/similar breast cancer to the one Tracy has. It is highly aggressive (spreads quickly) and is oestrogen sensitive and, since most women of this age bracket and younger haven’t been through menopause, there is plenty of oestrogen in their bodies providing fuel for the beast. Who knew there was a downside to being young.
So… if you are young and have a lump that is given the all clear after having had a mammogram and ultrasound, ask for a biopsy even if, like Tracy, you aren’t offered one. At best you will get peace of mind if it’s all clear and, if not, then you’ll catch it earlier - and the earlier the better. We wish Tracy had been given this advice, but she wasn’t and so now she is fighting for her life.
Advanced Metastatic Breast Cancer doesn’t come with reassuring statistics. There’s no warm discussion over how many people before you have been in your position, who have won the battle and are now cancer free, back to living life as they once knew. Instead statistics are avoided at all costs. Discussions start with things like –
“Our goal cannot be to cure you, but we can aim to help you live with cancer”.
“Treatments will become a part of your life. We will treat you as much as you can take until you can’t take any more, then we will break, until we need to start again, and so we will continue.”
“The approach to your treatment will be guided around keeping you alive for as long as possible with as high a quality of life as possible.”
And whilst these words were hard to hear, they were much more reassuring than the alternative that we were left to ponder during the week of diagnostic tests. That week was the ultimate of cliff-hangers and it felt like it went on for a year. We had no idea where and how far the cancer had spread and we dreaded hearing the words “You can’t be treated”.
The end result had good news and bad. The bad news was that the cancer had spread through Tracy’s bones, skull, spine, ribs, arms, pelvis and more. The fracture at T12 had a piece that was heading towards her spinal cord and, if the tumour grew or changed at that level, she could end up paralysed. The good news was that it wasn’t in her organs with the exception of a suspicious spot in her liver. The further good news (in a strangely reassuring way) was that breast surgery could wait and so could the surgery on her back fracture. All of this meant she could get started with treatment sooner. And so the fight begins.
No one can prepare you for what the fight will be like. So far Tracy has had appointment after appointment, many of them not very pleasant. She’s had two biopsies (the tumour bent every needle they tried because her breast is so hard from the tumour), two sets of head to toe CT scans, MRI’s, XRays, a port installed for chemo access, injections, more tablets/drugs than you could imagine, numerous consultations with surgeons, radiotherapists, oncologists, GP’s, dental prep etc.
This list and the numbers will only grow and grow but, in short, she has been busy with 4-5 hours of appointments most days. For Tracy most of this has been done whilst coping with a varying level and combination of pain, nausea and vomiting. You only need to spend an hour with Tracy to realise how much we take for granted. Simple things like getting up from a seat need precise care and concentration to avoid flaring her pain. She struggled to sign her name when we went to open her fundraiser bank account - I thought she was having trouble concentrating as she was tired, but discovered she couldn’t hold the pen without a sharp breathtaking pain making her drop it again. And yet, not even a few minutes later, she was laughing about it through the pain.
She will find a way to laugh whenever she can.
The upshot of all of this is that she can no longer work and unfortunately Tracy was a contractor/temp at the time she was diagnosed. She was due to convert to a permanent role in the company in February but she has had to turn this down and, in doing so, lost her income when her family need it most. And so the 4Tracy4Life fundraiser was born.
With mounting medical costs and down one income, her friends and family have gathered round to help raise funds to allow her to fight the best fight possible. We believe that in the year ahead Tracy will need to dedicate every ounce of energy to doing things that are going to make her better. Our hope is, that in doing so, she will have longer with us and, most importantly, with Taya. That it will give us longer to pray for and search for a miracle. There is always hope and we are not giving up on that! It may feel like she has started her fight behind the 8 ball and it’s going to take an army to win the battle, but luckily that’s exactly what she has and it's growing every day.
Her medical team have been incredible and we have great faith in them. Her friends and family are so generous with time, energy, love and support; and every single person that contributes in any way shape or form becomes part of her army. Every one of you is helping to provide much needed strength and courage to walk the road ahead. So, if you’d like to be part of Tracy’s army please visit the Help Tracy page.