With many thanks and great credit to Nancy Mills of Spirited Woman, my Q&A for the August E-Newsletter:
We all know about Facebook, the social networking site that brings people together. Well, long story short, Tracy Pleva-Hill is one of my Facebook friends. When I saw that picture of Tracy standing next to her motorcycle, I was so taken by her spirit that I reached out to her. I've rarely done that with my Facebook friends or most people for that matter. And I must say my instincts were right.
I later found out that Tracy, who lives in Flemington, New Jersey with her husband and son, is one of the bravest, most spirited women on the planet. At the age of 32, Tracy was diagnosed with Stage IIb, triple negative breast cancer - one year after her son's birth. Since then, for eight years now, she has been fighting for her life and winning the battle.
Tracy is a true survivor, mother, wife, PR professional at the MCS agency, and heroine of her own courageous, passionate life story. Her attitude about life is incredible. Normally, I do a Q&A with my interview subjects, but I received an e-mail from Tracy that so touched and moved me, that I am including it in its entirety below. Tracy is an inspirational gift to us all - and I urge you to support her and to continue following her story at her blog: http://fstage4.blogspot.com/
The Damn Disease
I was diagnosed with Stage IIb, triple negative breast cancer in 2000 at the age of 32. For a full account of this experience, you can go Here. Ten months after completing my treatment (mastectomy, reconstruction and 8 rounds of chemo) I discovered enlarged lymph nodes around my collar bone. My disease had progressed to Stage IV. Since then, I have been on some form of chemotherapy to try and manage my disease. In that time, I've experienced other progressions and have had to change treatments several times. I have had mets to my brain three times (most recently identified in April and obliterated in May via Gamma Knife, a radiation therapy), and this crap loves my lymph nodes. I have had CyberKnife therapy, another form of radiation, to pulmonary nodes in my chest, and just this week, nodes around my opposite collar bone. I also apparently have a lung nodule. This is a new and scary involvement for me.
In addition to dealing with my cancer, in late 2006 I developed an ITP -- idiopathic thombocytic pupura. Which essentially means, your platelets are disappearing and we don't know why. I've developed some sort of antibody against my own platelets. My bone marrow makes them, the antibody eats them. If your platelets are too low, you cannot get chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is all I have. So, this has been a very distressing ride for me as I have spent the better part of the past year NOT getting treated for my disease.Things are looking up right now. Thanks to steroids (UGH) and a new ITP drug, my platelets have rebounded and I started chemo again last week. I was VERY excited! My doctors and I are working very hard to find a balance so we can continue to treat my disease as appropriate while not killing my platelets. It's been a challenge.
My Family and Friends
My husband and son are my life. I live for them. I want them to have as normal an existence as possible. Hell, I want to have as normal an existence as possible. My son has never known me as anyone but a person with cancer. He's sat on my lap as a toddler while I've received infusions and now that he is older, he is friendly with my doctors and nurses. Cancer and marriage? That's a hard one. I am blessed in that my husband is my best friend and our love is solid. But this disease has ravaged our relationship in many ways and I feel very, very cheated by it. After all this time... I still feel ripped off. However, there is love, support and happiness in our home. It's the best gift I have.I am also lucky to have fantastic parents and sisters. There has never been any question about support from my family. It's there. It always has been. My friends, as well, are terrific. I have never gone through the negative experience of having someone drop by the wayside because of my disease. Blessed, blessed, blessed.
I have been a public relations professional for nearly 20 years. While always an account person, the complications of my disease over the past years have made it very difficult for me to be a reliable contact for clients. My agency, MCS, has been enormously supportive and accommodating of me throughout all of it. Although I can no longer manage account teams my skills have been transferred to an HR roll, which is something that our agency needed but was not fully addressed. In my new role, I have more flexibility with my time and can still help the agency and the fabulous people who work there achieve their best.
MCS is a privately held company that focuses solely on health care. Considering how much of my life is tied up in health care, you can imagine my happiness at being able to work at a shop like this. And, yes, I work full time. In fact, I have never not worked full time during this experience except for when I had my mastectomy, and this past Dec - Mar when I took disability to focus on getting my ITP under control.
Early in my cancer experience, I was heavily involved with the Young Survival Coalition http://www.youngsurvival.org. In fact, I appear in a few of their support views: Fighting for Our Future and The Beautiful 8 (about living with metastatic disease). After my metastatic dx, I found I needed to pull back from my volunteer and advocacy work. But, I am still very much in touch with them and the founders of this fantastic organization. They paved the way for building awareness about young women and breast cancer as well as living with metastatic disease.
Last year, I participated in Amazon Heart Thunder UK. It was a 10-day motorcycle ride through Scotland and England with 20 other women breast cancer survivors. It was truly a life changing experience for me and I would go on for pages about it if you give me a chance. You can find Amazon Heart here: http://www.amazonheart.org.
What Do I Like?
Being with my family. Working. Being independent. Motorcycles (although I just sold mine this year and miss it TERRIBLY. But, since I am having problems with my platelets, it's probably not a good idea for me to be ripping around on a sport bike with no ability to clot), reading when I can. Being with friends. The ocean. The simple pleasures, with some special luxuries thrown in because I deserve them!
Why Do I feel that I am a Spirited Woman?
I am a Spirited Woman because I draw upon the power that I have within me to live the best life that I possibly can with metastatic breast cancer. I acknowledge the challenge I face and the difficulties that breast cancer places in my life. But I work very hard not to allow it to consume me. And for each attack it launches upon me, I retaliate. I reassess my strategy and develop a new plan. I make cancer fight for every little thing it takes from me. I do not give cancer any credit for bringing positive things to my life. I create the good in my life. Any strength or courage that people might see in me is mine.
THANK YOU TRACY FOR GIFTING US ALL WITH YOUR LIFE
Tracy welcomes hearing from you. She invites you to follow her continuing story at http://fstage4.blogspot.com/.