Tracee Cole, July 2021
Tracee Cole's Story Behind Beauty
My story is one that I hope encourages others to take their health seriously. Our health should be one of our top priorities and if you ever feel like there is a question about something going on with your body, get it checked out.This is my experience...
In January of 2020, I went to the Doctor as I had some concerns about possibly having shingles. While there, he did, in fact, diagnose me with shingles. Since I was already visiting the doctor, I thought I would make mention of the fact that I felt a lump in my breast and in my armpit. It was painful and really hurt, which I found worrisome and odd for me. He had noted that it was probably from the shingles but we would get it checked out just to be safe.
I was scheduled for a mammogram and an ultrasound a few weeks later after my shingles calmed down. When I had the imaging done, the doctor came in and said he wanted to do a biopsy because some of the cells looked suspicious or abnormal. This was not what I wanted to hear. I came back in a couple days for the biopsies. After that, I was told that I would wait a few days for results so I prepared to wait… but I didn’t have to. I got a call the next day saying I needed to come in right away. This was obviously not what I wanted to hear.
I immediately called my husband and said we needed to go in, that I didn’t think they had good news for me. My heart just sank to the floor. I couldn’t stop shaking. What were they going to say? What would we do? This is the type of worry that I don’t wish on anyone. And the news on the other end of this doctor’s visit, isn’t news I would wish on anyone.
I did find out I had breast cancer and that it was in my lymph node. I was diagnosed with IDC and DCIS grade 2 triple positive in Feb 2020. Being triple positive, I had to start with chemo right away. Things were moving so fast that I didn’t even have time to process the diagnosis let alone the things I would need to do for treatment. Like a whirlwind, before chemo, I had genetic testing, a CAT scan, port placement surgery, an echo of my heart, a bone scan, x-rays, more mammograms and a breast MRI… I even had appointments with surgeons and plastic surgeons...and this was all before I’d really had the chance to let my diagnosis sink in, for me to work through all the feelings I was having about treatment, cancer and my future and my family’s future.
Before chemo started I had genetic testing, a CAT scan, port placement surgery, an echo of my heart, bone scan, x-ray, more mammograms, and a breast MRI, along with surgeon and plastic surgeon appts. Finally, I started chemo. I had my mom and husband with me at my first one. Then COVID hit and I couldn’t have imagined what the past year or so would have been like. I couldn’t have anyone with me for the rest of my treatments. I had a total of 6, every three weeks. It was like being on a roller coaster. I felt good, then horrible and then I started to feel better and it started all over again. Luckily, I had the same nurse for a lot of my treatments, otherwise I would have felt completely alone.
I had a bilateral mastectomy with expanders in July of 2020 and then I became cancer free. Because I had lymph node involvement, I needed to have 25 rounds of radiation. At 15 rounds in I came down with an infection and ended up in the hospital with 4 surgeries in 5 days and lost my expander on the side that was being radiated. I wasn’t able to get an expander put back in because of the type of infection I had, so my surgeon put an antibiotic spacer in to be able to stretch my skin a little bit and to heal the infection. I healed for a couple of weeks and then continued my radiation.
In February 2021, I finished my Herceptin and Perjeta and now I’m on Anastrozole for the next 5 years (because my cancer was Hormone driven). My exchange surgery was May 7, but the day before my surgery my Plastic Surgeon said she wasn’t comfortable doing that. Because my skin had tightened so much from February until May at my consult appointment, she didn’t feel comfortable putting an implant or expander in. She suggested waiting until later in July and having a TUG Flap surgery. I really didn’t want to do this due to all the risks and complications that we had previously talked about at my consult appt in February. She suggested doing a Latissimus Dorsi Flap surgery with an expander. This is basically taking my back muscle or part of the muscle and transferring it to under the breast where the tightened radiated skin would be removed. I decided to try this surgery. So, I did have this surgery on May 7 and the plan is to have my exchange surgery along with fat grafting the end of July. I am still at higher risk to lose the expander or implant. I’m just staying positive and praying I don’t have any more issues. I am researching potentially going flat if this doesn’t work. But for now I’m healing again until the next surgery.
As you can see in reading all that I've been through, it is clear that a cancer diagnosis is complex and different for everyone. I am still in the process of recovering and creating my life after cancer. I wanted to tell my story as it is happening because I feel a lot of our stories are the same, but yet they are all so different. I had so many complications along the way and if I can help anyone else going through some of these issues, I want to help. For me staying positive throughout my journey and having faith that everything would work out has helped me through. I want other women going through breast cancer or any type of cancer, to know they are not alone.
I love how strong I’ve become through this cancer diagnosis. I knew from the beginning I was going to fight and not give up. Me telling my story has really gotten me out of my quiet shell. My scars don’t bother me. They show the battle I’ve gone through and continue to go through.
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