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Learn how to live a good life after a cancer diagnosis.

My Story

How I learned to grieve, plan, and prepare.

Timelines - Diagnosis 1-Remission
Timelines – Diagnosis 1-Remission

Doctors can save a life, but they can’t calm a fearful mind.

Whether it was worrying about the side effects of cancer treatments, wondering whether the tumor might be growing, researching non-Western alternatives, understanding what it meant to have the BRCA-1 gene mutation, or trying to navigate the confusing world of insurance companies, staying positive and pragmatic was exhausting. I confided in current cancer patients and those in remission. I participated in support groups, took advantage of the social workers available at the cancer center, and found my own therapist. Along the way, I’ve used my knowledge, experiences, and photographs to help mentor newly diagnosed cancer patients.

I was first diagnosed with stage III breast cancer on July 31, 2014, at the age of 39.

Breast Tumor - Diagnosis 1
MRI
Breast Tumor – Diagnosis 1
MRI

Three years after that, I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer, which appeared in the vertebrae of my neck.

Metastatic Breast Cancer - Diagnosis 2
Xray
Metastatic Breast Cancer – Diagnosis 2
Xray

Two years later, after complaining of headaches and dizziness, I went to the ER and was diagnosed with my third tumor. A brain CT scan and subsequent testing revealed stage IV metastatic breast cancer on the left side of my cerebellum.

Missing Left Cerebellum - Diagnosis 3
MRI
Missing Left Cerebellum – Diagnosis 3
MRI

Receiving every cancer diagnosis was shocking. Looking toward the future seemed a monumental task. I have endured the emotional and physical pain that comes with cancer. I have survived many surgeries: double mastectomy, lymph node dissection, hysterectomy, breast reconstruction, a corpectomy, and then a craniotomy. I’ve had a port-a-cath surgically placed for chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments.

First Chemo Cycle 2 Close Up - Diagnosis 1
Photographer Georgina Cates
First Chemo Cycle 2 Close Up – Diagnosis 1
Photographer Georgina Cates
Ports Access - Diagnosis 3
Photographer Warren Perlstein
Ports Access – Diagnosis 3
Photographer Warren Perlstein

Three times I’ve been subjected to radiation therapies.

Breast Radiation - Diagnosis 1
Breast Radiation – Diagnosis 1
Vertebrae Radiation - Diagnosis 2
Vertebrae Radiation – Diagnosis 2
Brain Radiation Mapping - Diagnosis 3
Photographer Bonnie Perlstein
Brain Radiation Mapping – Diagnosis 3
Photographer Bonnie Perlstein

There were MRIs, PET/CT scans. There were many hours of physical therapy for lymphedema in my right arm, nerve damage in my right leg, and a loss of range of motion in my neck after wearing a brace for 7 months.

Lymphedema Compression Sleeve - Diagnosis 1
Photographer Georgina Cates
Lymphedema Compression Sleeve – Diagnosis 1
Photographer Georgina Cates
Foam Lymphedema Wrap - Diagnosis 1
Foam Lymphedema Wrap – Diagnosis 1
Hot Tub In Neck Brace - Diagnosis 2
Photographer Warren Perlstein
Hot Tub In Neck Brace – Diagnosis 2
Photographer Warren Perlstein
Showering In Neck Brace - Diagnosis 2
Photographer Warren Perlstein
Showering In Neck Brace – Diagnosis 2
Photographer Warren Perlstein
Out Of Bed In Neck Brace - Diagnosis 2
Photographer James Asher
Out Of Bed In Neck Brace – Diagnosis 2
Photographer James Asher

I’m a Gen X’er from the suburbs of Chicago. I work as a union costumer in, Los Angeles, with a career in television comedies. I am an informed woman with strong opinions, and a wife in love with her wonderfully understanding husband. I could look at my scars and feel broken or flawed, but I don’t. I see a new version of myself that I’m learning to love more each day. They remind me to be calm, to listen, to enjoy, and try to find the silver linings in the most unfair situations.  

Cancer does not define me, but I cannot deny the impact it’s had on my adult life. I am more than a survivor, I am a thriver. As a thriver, I choose to look toward the future instead of clinging to the past. I use my experiences to learn and grow, and I will not be limited by brokenness.

My circle of friends has changed, but the relationships now are rooted in a deeper trust. My ability to continue with the same physical demands at work has also changed, and now I know who has my back and who will not let me go unemployed.

My husband, Jim, will always be the love of my life.

Comfort - Diagnosis 2
Photographer Warren Perlstein
Comfort – Diagnosis 2
Photographer Warren Perlstein

When friends started calling me a warrior (or after my oncologist referred to me as a wonder woman), I was too modest to agree. It seemed that I was just doing what I must in order to survive, and that didn’t feel particularly heroic. After all, what choice did I have?

But after moving through my own journey, as well as, witnessing those of so many others, it suddenly occurred to me that after all we’ve gone through, we’ve become Thrivers…and that makes us fierce forces of nature.

Now what I feel most often is…VICTORIOUS! And you will too, however your story may turn out. We tend to focus on the outcome as a measure of success, BUT THE REAL WIN IS THAT YOU STILL GOT IN THE RING AND PUT UP YOUR DUKES.

Meet you after the fight,

Love, Traci

Final Chemo...Again - Diagnosis 3
Photographer James Asher
Final Chemo…Again – Diagnosis 3
Photographer James Asher