Tracey Haider-Sprague, a homeschooling mother of two, is also the Training Director for Small Beginnings, a Lay Ministry Training Organization in Seattle, Washington where she researches, writes, teaches and counsels. She, along with her entire family, began their low-carb lifestyle in April 2003.
Tracey posts as ‘Mamasita’ on the Talking Low Carb Forums, where she proves an inspiration for us all!
"Time has been transformed, and we have changed;
it has advanced and set us in motion; it has unveiled its face,
inspiring us with bewilderment and exhilaration."
— Kahlil Gibran
I’m sitting at my desk with a very large white envelope on my lap. I’ve carried this envelope
around from doctor to doctor for five years now. Once, it got lost in the labyrinth of a Radiology
lab and I thought I would have to lose my cool and wring some necks to retrieve it. My very life
depends on this big white envelope.
It’s five years out from my original diagnosis of breast cancer; the “magic” time when I can
finally... hopefully... call myself a breast cancer survivor. I’ve endured the latest mammogram
appointment and now — inside this monstrous envelope — lay my radiology report and films from
all five years.
My mother died from breast to bone cancer. When she was 66, she discovered a lump in her left
breast. She'd had a mastectomy on her right side twenty years earlier, and that particular
surgery was all that was needed. No chemotherapy and no radiation. She had dodged the proverbial
bullet. This time it was her left breast was the offending body part.
Copyright © September 2003 Tracey Haider-Sprague and Low Carb Luxury
She'd waited too long.
There was the necessary full mastectomy and everyone had held their breath. Tests came back strangely
normal and she'd decided not to do chemotherapy. But within a couple of months her cancer spread to
her hips, spine, and neck. For the next three years she battled her cancer. My dad spread himself
reed thin in order to care for her. But toward the end, it became an unbearably heavy task and I
was called in to help.
I relocated my kids and myself two hours away from our home in order to live with my parents. It
was one of the hardest few months of my life. My wonderful husband had to stay behind and continue
working at his job. As I watched my mother grow progressively worse, it became apparent that she
would not recover and the time to say good-bye was at hand.
Hospice was asked to come in and I don’t think I could have survived the experience without them.
I think there is a special place in heaven for these people.
So as I watched my mom leave this earth, it became clear that I had now joined the dubious ranks of
those statistically high-risk people for breast cancer.
When I was thirty three, I'd wanted to get a baseline mammogram. But my Health
Maintenance Organization (which shall remain nameless) informed me that I was too young. They
claimed my breast tissue would be too dense. It would be too difficult to read my mammogram
and that I should wait. I was in fact told to wait until I was thirty-five and then they would
perform the test.
I turned thirty-five six months after my mother’s death. I marched into my doctor’s office having
made an appointment for a breast exam. With my dying mother’s image burned into my memory, I sat
across the desk from the doctor. I had thought that I would get my mammogram that day. But I was
First the doctor took my history. Then we proceeded to the physical part of the exam. He felt
all around my breasts and commented openly that I was “smooth as glass.” No lumps or bumps. He
was astonished. Once I got dressed and we were sitting again across from each other, he went on
to tell me that I looked fine and he would see me again in a year for another breast exam.
I asked for a baseline mammogram.
He said that I had no lumps, was in perfect health and that I was too young to worry myself about
having breast cancer. In shock, I reminded him that my mother had just died from it and that I was
at substantially high risk. He patted my hand and said that it wasn’t necessary.
Well, I’m not a shrinking violet, and frankly, this pushed me over the edge.
“If you don’t refer me for a mammogram, I will fire you as my doctor and find a doctor that will
do his job.” With an amused look, he sat back in his chair for a moment and then humoring me,
pulled out his little pink pad and wrote out a referral.
Just so you know... I fired the man anyway.
I got home and wasted no time becoming terribly afraid. That pink slip sat on my computer desk for
a month. I had the hardest time calling to set up the appointment. I think on some level I knew
what was going to happen.
I went for the mammogram and the woman who performed the test filmed me until I could have glowed
in the dark. Coming back in the room time after time, she told me things like, “Oh, you must have
moved slightly. The image is blurred. We need another film done.” On and on it went, until I began
to realize from the look on her face that something was wrong. I fell apart right there next to
that infernal machine.
And so it was that my husband and I found ourselves sitting one day soon after in a breast cancer surgeon’s office...
There are no words to adequately describe what it feels like to hear the words “you” and
“cancer” in the same sentence. I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. In plain English,
it means that I had a six centimeter swath of cancer all down a milk duct in my left breast. It
had not left the duct so it was “in situ” — in place.
I had a partial mastectomy followed by a month of recovery. But it wasn't long after that I was
told there was still cancer present. I had yet another partial mastectomy... followed by six
and a half weeks of daily radiation treatments.
My surgeon told me that if I had waited one year, my chances of survival would have dropped by
fifty percent and that I would have had to have chemotherapy for sure. As it happens, I had a particularly aggressive cancer. So by that time, it would no longer have been “in situ”, but invasive. He let me know that conventional wisdom now calls for high risk women to have their first mammogram ten years prior to when their mother first contracted it. But my mother first had cancer when
she was forty-six years old. If I had followed that “rule”, I might not be alive today.
I had a cancer scare once again a couple of years ago, but a biopsy ruled it out and I’ve been happy
to live in a pseudo-delusion that perhaps I’m free of the claws of doom. But here I sit with this large
envelope and the radiology report which will tell me if I’ve once again escaped its clutches. I’ve
learned to read “medical speak” far more than I ever wanted to.
That word to a cancer patient is the most delightful word one can read. The other word that brings
a song to our hearts is “negative.” Yes, for now — for this last year — I’ve been cancer free. But
I’m still in wonder at how I managed to take my health care firmly in my two hands and make my
first mammogram happen.
I write this with the deepest of hopes that as many women hear my story they will not stop
until they get the care they need. You are NOT too young. I was very, very blessed to have the outcome
that I did. Even so, the rest of my life I must remain diligent and always be my own advocate.
I have a wonderful life... a blessed life. I get to be with my children and husband. I get to do what
I get to live.
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