Tracie Campbell remembers relaxing in bed when she got “the call.”
It’s not the first time, and she fears that it may not be the last.
She knew it was bad news when the radiologist called instead of the nurse, but her gut and past experience didn’t need the phone call.
The life-changing diagnosis, which is Campbell’s third in the last decade, began with the discovery of one small lump. Campbell, convinced it was nothing more than a bug bite, ignored it and attended her annual mammogram just weeks later.
“It was miniscule. It was nothing,” Campbell said. “I didn’t think a thing of it.”
She had gotten a mammogram done on a state-of-the-art 3-D imaging machine in West Virginia. So, when they called back requesting an ultrasound, the nurse assured her it was just because Campbell had never been tested with a machine of that magnitude before. During the ultrasound, Campbell could “tell” that the nurse had spotted something, and they later requested a biopsy of the mass.
“As I was laying on the table for my biopsy, I started crying. A voice in my head kept telling me, ‘Prepare yourself because this is cancer,’” Campbell said. “I really think the Lord starts prepping you for these things.”
The “quick” process had left little time for Campbell to process what was happening, and looking back, she doesn’t know how she got through those initial days.
“I had my biopsy done Monday and by Thursday they called me and told me that I had breast cancer,” said Campbell.
She recognized that “surreal” gut-feeling all too well, as Campbell was diagnosed with thyroid cancer ten years ago, and received the devastating news again just four years ago when the cancer returned.
She was diagnosed Thursday, April 12, and by the next day, Campbell and her husband of 24 years sat in the Cancer Center surrounded by doctors strategizing how to best handle her Stage 1 cancer.
“You’re like a deer in headlights,” Campbell said.
One of the doctors recommended Campbell to undergo a PET scan the following week to discover the full magnitude of the cancer, with Campbell believing the disease was limited to the small lump on her breast.
“That’s when he dropped the bomb that it is actually Stage 3 cancer,” Campbell said.
Campbell was “devastated” to realize that the cancer was not just the “miniscule” lump, but spread to her lymph nodes and under her arms, collarbone and shoulder.
“I say, ‘Oh Lord I am glad you put this much faith into me, but a little less may have been nice,’” Campbell said.
Campbell will finish her chemotherapy treatments in mid-July, and due to a genetic mutation, the odds of her breast cancer returning are greater than 85 percent, she will later undergo a double mastectomy and daily radiation.
She is now left to focus on healing and preparing for her battle at home, although the thoughts connected to her diagnosis can be “overwhelming.”
“I don’t mean to sound vain, but one of the thoughts that keeps sticking in my head is the possibility of being bald and boob-less,” Campbell said.
As she sits in the chemotherapy chair and receives her medication, she pushes her thoughts away and listens to Christian music.
“All I keep saying to myself is that it is the Lord’s will,” Campbell said. “If this is the season I am meant to walk through, then this is the season I have to get through.”
She reminisces on her days serving students at the Beehive, working alongside two of her three children, who are also employed through Aladdin Food Management Services.
“That is one thing that I miss,” Campbell said. “Being at work with all the kids, coworkers and my bosses. Everyone is just so good to me.”
To her children, two of whom fall on the autism spectrum, she feels that the “only way to go about” discussing cancer with them is through total honesty. Campbell must step away from her role as a caregiver and receive some of the assistance she has grown so used to providing to her children, mother-in-law, husband and other loved ones.
As Campbell balances the unavoidable exhaustion caused by her treatment, she focuses on regaining her health rather than centering her thoughts on her diagnosis.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing,” Campbell said. “Hair grows back. I will take hairless, boob-less and alive any day of the week.”