by Tracey Treat

I received the call on January 30th. “You have breast cancer”. I immediately thought, this is not my first rodeo, I can do this. One lump, no sweat. I made my first calls and surprisingly, I was calm, calmer actually than the people I was telling. The nurse coordinator called me the next morning, bright and early, and with not a minute to spare, I was ready to make all the appointments I needed to “get this done”.

At that very moment, I decided I was not going to shed a tear. I was going to be strong and I was not going to let this diagnosis get me down, or stop me from living and being the person I have always been. This breast cancer was just going to be another “bump in the road”, one of many I have had in my 51 years on this planet.

I told my husband, no tears. I told my family, no tears. I told my best in the world friends, no tears. I waited until my daughter came home for UVM spring break to tell my children, as I thought telling them together would be best. By this time, I had my complete diagnosis and my surgery was scheduled for March 12, 2020. I was to have a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction surgery with many lymph nodes removed because of the amount of tumors in my left breast. Cancer went to town in my body and was having a hell of a party. Even while telling my daughter Kelsey, 19, and my son Jared, 15, I somehow managed to keep it together. My husband Jim did most of the talking and I took many deep breaths. At the time it was important for me to get the point across that I was going to live a long, happy life. I needed them to BELIEVE just as much as I needed to believe. Check task number one off the list, and I did it all without shedding one single tear.

March 12th, my dreaded surgery day. I went in calm. I was going to be fine, as I was putting myself in the hands of the best doctors in Philadelphia. I knew I could do it, and I did. I still told myself it could be worse, 13 tumors are bad, spread to a lymph node is bad, but I was thankful the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and not my brain, or anywhere else. As you get older it is strange what you consider a positive and not a negative. Still, not a tear. I can do this. I am a warrior not a worrier, my new mantra found on a mug that my best friend Carrie gave me. I am strong.

As I am home recovering, I am devastated by the news and Covid-19. I see that all elective surgeries are cancelled on March 17, 2020, just 5 days after my surgery. All I can think of is that my surgery would have been cancelled or postponed had I not gone in when I did. There were people in my situation that had to wait months and worry about all of the “what ifs” while waiting for Covid to get under control. I had my reconstruction done at the same time, and was told I would have to wait until after Chemo to have the exchange complete…6 months. Now I thought this would surely make me cry, but no, I thought to myself…people are dying of Covid everyday. I can do this. Not a tear.

Chemo countdown (#8) begins, by myself, eight hours at Penn, no company, a four hour taxolinfusion, no tears. Then, shaving my hair off (and for the record, I had a long, thick mane of hair), not a tear but pure ridiculous laughter as my friend Candy shaved my head with my other dear friend Bernadette, on facetime watching. How can you cry, while in the company of people who truly love you and tell you it is going to be ok? All the while looking at your little bald head thinking… not even lipstick will help me pull this off!

Next up, Chemo 7, 6, 5, again, no company because of Covid. Boring, but no tears and no side effects. Things are looking up!

But then… Chemo 4, 3 and #2…the “Red Devil” as it is called, and boy is it red and it is THE devil! The infusion cocktail is made up of more drugs for anti-nausea than the actual chemo drug “red devil”. It is so toxic they have to push it directly into the IV – four full syringes. Chemo 4 and 3 no tears, but very, very sick. I still got this I say. Almost done. One week sick, one week feeling good and then back to Penn.

Sometimes the smallest event can have the biggest effect on you, and it happens so fast you do not even know what happened. Because all elective surgeries were cancelled, I was unable to get a port put in for my Chemo treatments. I had to have all of my infusions in my right arm. My left arm is off limits, for life now. I had six successful IV infusions with no problems. Until the “red devil”. They could not find a vein that was strong enough. The nurses start with the veins at the wrist and move up to the elbow. Once there, if they cannot find a vein, you cannot have your infusion. I had 2 possible veins left. My mind was racing, I have to get this done today . I have my eye on the prize, July 29th, my last day of Chemo and September 3, my expanders (the “aliens”) out. Nothing can get in the way of this. They tried four veins, no luck. They had one possible vein left at my elbow, and if it didn’t work, I would have to go home and try again a week later. Then, with no warning, for the very first time, I cried. I cried in front of a nurse I barely knew, who was doing her very best to get it done for me. I cried like a baby.

I was reflecting the day after and wondering, was I crying because they could not find that vein or for all the times before that I did not cry? Was I crying for all the times I couldn’t fall asleep, or the thought of not seeing my children become adults? Was it all of the doctor visits filled with bad news that I had to hear with no one by my side? Was I crying because I thought I would get Covid every time I left my house? Or, was it because I simply had had enough and I NEEDED my final day to be the day it was in my mind? I will never really know. All I do know is that the nurse was patient, kind, and told me she was going to get that vein, and thankfully, she did. I survived my first “breast cancer cry” with someone I barely knew. My philosophy of being strong, carrying on and being the best you can be (healthy or sick), truly is the best medicine. However, I must admit, a good cry every now and then doesn’t hurt either!