Last Saturday, Tracey stood alone on a dark stage with a spotlight trained on her. Her short hair was a shiny, rich auburn brown, her eyes sparkled and her smile never left her face. She looked beautiful, vibrant and so very much alive. The evening was sold out and 300 pairs of eyes were riveted on her. Behind her a screen projected the poster for her one-woman show called “I’ve Got This!”
It all started last summer when she asked to meet with the team at the cancer wellness centre where I work. “I have an idea!” she told us mysteriously. (Cancer wellness programs complement traditional medicine and help people to live well with cancer by addressing their emotional, spiritual and physical needs.) Tracey had been diagnosed with breast cancer two years earlier but was now cancer-free.
Tracey is, by her own admission, a Type A personality. A radio-show host, actress, faculty member at a college and former television anchor, she seems to always have several things going on at once. She says that even when she was sick, she was driven – driven to become “the best cancer patient the world has ever seen”, that is.
Her journey wasn’t an easy one. She had a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer and initially had a toxic reaction to treatment. During her show, black and white photos of a bald, emaciated Tracey filled the screen behind her. When her treatment ended and she was declared cancer-free, another surprise awaited her: she was sideswiped by a deep depression.
“There are days when I find it hard to get out of bed. Sometimes I hear the phone ring and I don’t pick up …. just because the expectation is that I should be happy and I don’t want to disappoint.” – Tracey
That’s when she joined our Centre. She tried many of our programs, including yoga, meditation, sound healing and counselling. With time, she returned to a version of her former self. (Cancer changes you, she says. You never go back to being exactly who you were before.) With her positive attitude and energy restored, her ambitious idea was to mount a one-woman show about her cancer journey to benefit our Centre.
She wrote the show and convinced the college where she worked to provide the theatre and technicians for free. She recruited friends to help, solicited prizes for a raffle and silent auction, promoted the show, etc. And on Saturday, November 9th, it all came together as she stood on stage in front of a full house.
You wouldn’t think a show about cancer could be funny. But it was. It was also honest, raw, sweet and touching. I watched her radiant face as the show ended to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. I watched her two teen-aged sons hop onto the stage, one at the time, arms filled with flowers that they handed her before hugging her. And I shook my head in admiration. Not just of her talent, but of her take no prisoners attitude to cancer.
I hope I never have to find out how I would react to a cancer diagnosis, but something tells me I would want to crawl under a rock. Every day, though, I am inspired by men and women who smile and find joy while living with it. I saw a slogan recently that perfectly reflects their attitude: Life with cancer is still life.