Meet Tracy, one of the many warriors directly impacted by the therapeutic programs at Weill Cornell.
What advice would you give to someone who just received a diagnosis?
I describe those first days with my breast cancer diagnosis as an out of body experience. For me, taking action helped me gain a sense of control. I found it helpful to research credible sources (recommended by my doctors) for information. I recommend bringing a notebook and a loved one to all appointments. I was far too emotional to really hear the answers to the questions I had written down, and it was helpful to look back at the notes taken. I also strongly believe in second opinions, not just from medical standpoint, but also from pathology. I had two separate pathologists examine my slides and there were variances in their conclusions. Treatment options ultimately didn't change because of this, but it was reassuring to have two teams look at my case and agree on a plan.
How has having breast cancer changed your outlook toward life?
Anyone who knows me well would say I have always had a mindful, generally positive outlook on life. My answer to this question could be incredibly lengthy. Suffice it to say, I appreciate the freedom of expression and self love that this diagnosis has brought to me. Oftentimes I've made apologies for having a differing opinion or not agreeing with a "mainstream" way of doing things. Now I think, who cares! I'm going to share what I love and value, because if I'm not here tomorrow, I certainly want my young children to know what I believed in. AND WOW, did a lot of people surprise me with expressions of love and friendship and support. It was quite moving to be the recipient of so much kindness. It made me want to be a better person. I feel inspired to help others in a way that I did not know I was capable of.
What gave you strength during treatment and what support have you found especially helpful?
There are so many answers to this question. First and foremost I am motivated by my husband and my three young daughters. Within weeks of my diagnosis, I recognized signs of the autoimmune disease, type 1 diabetes in my then four-year old daughter. Ironically enough, I sold insulin and trained nurses in the use of an insulin pen prior to having my children. However, with no immediate family history, it was a shock to realize this life threatening and life altering condition. It was doubly challenging because of my simultaneous treatment. In all honesty, breast cancer treatment became a schedule of appointments that I had to “get through” in order to focus on our baby. Many of us, as mothers, put our children’s well-being ahead of our own. I sort of had this mentality as I dove into chemotherapy treatment for 12 weeks. I went in there the first day saying, "Let’s get this over with!” I share this because I had what I call, superhuman Mom strength that empowers us when our child is in need. Fortunately, my husband and I became closer than ever as we managed the round the clock injections and blood sugar management together, albeit with sad hearts and disbelief.
I’ve always exercised because I truly love it. I find great enjoyment in moving and sweating and I process day-to-day life much better when I carve out time to be physically active. As I started chemotherapy, I challenged myself to hold on to as much of who I was as possible. I was in the best physical condition of my life, and I was not going to let breast cancer take that away from me without a fight. My oncologist supported me continuing to exercise throughout treatment. Fortunately, the type of exercise I enjoy can be done at home, so when I lost my hair and I was feeling vulnerable and insecure about myself, I found a tremendous amount of solace in getting on my mat every day and streaming classes in my living room with Tracy Anderson through her website. I also reached out on Instagram which was new to me. Tracy Anderson has inspired a very special platform for women to journal and share their journeys with her method of fitness by tagging a group dubbed the #TAmily. So many compassionate people reached out and supported my effort to keep moving. Tracy Anderson also reached out and offered her support. It was truly heart-warming. I found it motivating and inspiring to be a part of this online community. Even my close friends and family didn’t realize the extent to which I worked out routinely. It became important to me to start sharing more of what I love to do everyday. I gradually found strength in sharing my vulnerability and my bald head as well. It felt real to me and I wanted my daughters to see me own this part of my journey with dignity. Instead of feeling insecure, I started to feel empowered. I’d been dealt a hell of a lot to deal with and the harder life pushed me down, the more I wanted to fight back.
I am blessed with a truly beautiful circle of friends and family. 17 years ago, Allison and I were scheduled to spend the day together as sales colleagues. We spent the day finishing each other’s sentences and laughing together about who knows what, as though we had known each other all of our lives. It was an immediate friendship. She sang “You’ve Got a Friend” at our wedding and she’s proven to mean every verse. She’s truly so considerate of everyone around her and she inspires me to think of others more. We live an hour apart, but we are in frequent contact and have this uncanny sense for what one another needs as a friend, whether it be a listening ear as we share a laugh or rehash something trivial over and over, or a shoulder to cry on. She’s my pal who joins me in any adventure, be it a triathlon or a marathon or for the past several years, a journey with Tracy Anderson. We have babies the same ages. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I called my husband, then my parents, then Allison. When she came to see me that week, we just cried together. She showed up for me in so many ways during treatment despite having her own very full life. She came to doctor appointments with me, including the appointment where the nurse lists the LIST of potential side effects from chemotherapy. Allison wrote down every word while I sat in disbelief. After several minutes of side effects shared including organ damage, neuropathy, cognitive issues, and so on, the nurse said “...and there is the potential for you to lose your hair.” We looked at each other and keeled over laughing and crying while the nurse stared at us blankly. In a moment that felt so desensitized by a clinician, she and I shared a tearful laugh at the absurdity of it all. If she couldn’t come up to visit, she sent me cards, called every day and shared her unconditional love. I am honored to call her my bestie. She gave me more strength than she realizes. And when all was said and done with breast cancer treatment, she fundraised and drove 5 hours to spend a week celebrating with me at the Tracy Anderson studio in Watermill, New York. Here we also paddle boarded in a race (a first for both of us) to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Another adventure in the books. We’ve got plenty more ahead of us!
What should friends and family say or do after learning about your diagnosis? What shouldn’t they say?
Our community rallied around us with a meal train schedule that included recipes from the books like the Cancer Fighting Kitchen, by Rebecca Katz. I couldn’t subsist on my children’s favorites (Mac and cheese and chicken nuggets) every night! It was a memorable gift to have thoughtful, nutritious, home cooked meals most nights.
I wish people would hold back sharing stories of other’s who have lost their battle with cancer. Hope is the most important prescription for anyone facing this disease.
How did it feel when you found our goodwill ambassador (Melissa) on Instagram? Do you think this is something that others would find helpful? Do you agree that a new pair of tights can be inspirational?
I searched and searched for breast cancer survivors on the other side of treatment, who were working out! I was very excited to find Melissa. I’m so impressed with her strength and I admire the way she is advocating for women facing breast cancer in such a specific and important way. I think integrative care should be free of charge for every cancer patient. She is doing very important work for the breast cancer community.
The leggings! I have to admit I spent years working out in the same workout attire. But honestly, since I received the Alala leggings, I honestly have a change of heart. I am surprised by how inspired I feel wearing a new pair of leggings, and especially ones that are raising awareness for breast cancer!