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Fight of Her Life: Carthage Resident Tracy Weidner Courageously Battles Cancer Again
December 19, 2007 - Every morning Carthage resident Tracy Weidner goes about her day like most adults - up and off to work in the morning and back home in the evening. In her job at the National Road BP in Knightstown, she interacts with hundreds of people, and many are friends of hers. She helps them quickly as they run through their daily routine of filling their gas tanks or grabbing a coffee.
But while Weidner is offering smiles and warm greetings to patrons scrambling to keep their schedules, she knows she's just biding her time, hoping for the best in a bad situation that has her waging some internal wars against some powerful, dangerous foes, not the least of which is fear of the unknown.
In the past two months, she has been told her rent is about to be increased. Her ex-husband has been laid off and might soon struggle to make child support payments. Her health insurance premiums are about to increase substantially.
With a job that pays $8 per hour, the mother of a 10-year-old boy knows she is in deep financial trouble.
“I was thinking to myself, 'How could things possibly get any worse?' I think those were my exact words to a close friend,” said Weidner, 33. “And then they did.”
She was told her breast cancer is back.
It was Thursday, Nov. 8 when her physician called her with the news. Dormant for five years, it had returned.
“I already thought I was sinking before the breast cancer even came up,” she said. “All of this happening just before the holidays made it even harder to deal with.”
A lifelong Carthage area resident, Weidner graduated from Knightstown High School in 1992. She enjoys the safety and comfort of small town living and spending as much time as possible with her family, a close-knit group who all live in the area. But the small town lifestyle could not shelter her from the battle she is facing within her own body.
While some people live long, healthy lives and never have to step onto such a battleground, Weidner now finds she's waging war on several fronts. And once again she is encountering a face-to-face glare at her own mortality.
Weidner’s battle against breast cancer began in 2002 when she visited the doctor for a routine exam and mammogram. Despite being just 28 and with no history of the disease in her family, she had the procedure performed anyway. They found nothing.
A month later, though, the news sounded grim.
“I remember it very well,” Weidner said. “It was February 15, 2002, and I found a lump in my right breast while I was taking a shower. Four days later they told me it was cancer.”
Surgeons soon performed a lumpectomy - a surgical procedure in which the lump and a lymph node are removed and the breast is saved. It is the most common form of breast cancer surgery.
Four weeks later she began treatment that included 12 weeks of chemotherapy and then 28 days of radiation. The painful treatments came with side effects that included physical illness and hair loss, and her long journey back took a toll on family members. A hallmark of cancer sufferers everywhere, she soon donned the scalp-concealing bandana. Additional surgery in December 2006 reduced the size of her left breast to match the size of her right, and she continued to follow doctors’ instructions.
She had recovered well, and for five years there were no signs of the disease. Finally, even though the memories of the struggle were fresh in her mind, she had begun to feel normal again.
Then a routine mammogram on Nov. 8 looked suspect, and further tests were ordered.
“They sent me back for an ultrasound, and that’s when I began to get a little nervous. I imagine I got a little upset, and I know I cried some because I had been through this before. I knew something wasn’t right.
“Then the doctors came in and said they had found it again,” Weidner said. “They called my mom, and they told me they wouldn’t make me wait. They would tell me if it was malignant or benign that day. A while later they came in and told me it was positive.
“It took me a few minutes to realize what the doctor was saying. My mom hadn’t made it to the hospital yet and I was there by myself. I wasn’t ready for that news, I guess.
“I was thinking to myself ‘How am I supposed to do this?’ I knew I was already stretched for money and I knew what kind of treatment I’d have to go through again.”
Minutes later her mother, Sherry Williams, arrived at the hospital. Together they cried.
The first time Weidner battled breast cancer, she was married and had health insurance through her husband's employer. After the divorce, she maintained the insurance for awhile but had to pick up COBRA, which is insurance that provides continuing coverage for a limited period of time. When that expired, her choices nearly evaporated because of her health history.
The policy she ended up with was very expensive, and she was facing deductible and out-of-pocket expenses of $2,500 per year. Also, the treatment for the new cancer would force her to be off work for six-to-eight weeks.
So, she felt she had to postpone the needed treatment until the new calendar year.
“There was just no way that I could come up with $5,000 knowing I’m going to be off work so long and with all of the other financial problems,” Weidner said. “I know I’ve been spending more time worrying about the finances than the cancer, but that’s the reality of it all. I’ve beaten cancer once before, but I can’t beat the financial problems too. It’s very scary.”
She has received some help from the congregation of the Fletcher United Methodist Church in Carthage and is hoping something can be worked out to assist her with her rent. Her ex-husband is working on finding a way to keep the child support payments coming even though he is laid off.
During her recovery Weidner will need assistance. The first time she went through recovery from the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, she was still married and had the help of her spouse.
Today, that burden will fall primarily to her mother.
“My mom is going to be able to take some time off of work to help me during my recovery, but that’s also going to create a financial burden for her,” Weidner said. “She keeps telling me not to worry about that, but it’s impossible not to.”
She said one of the worst parts about having breast cancer is knowing the burden the disease and treatment will have on her family. She has no “significant other” in her life and knows her family will have to be there more frequently to pick her up and provide care.
“I feel like it’s burdening other people more this time,” she said.
Her son Jarrett, 10, is coping the best he can under the circumstances. The first time she dealt with breast cancer he was just four years old.
“He didn’t understand what was going on,” Weidner said with a slight chuckle. “He used to say ‘I want to wear a jig like by mom’, mispronouncing ‘wig’. It was cute.
“He didn’t know what was happening then, but he does now. Jarrett isn’t one to sit down and pour his heart out. When I told him, he cried,” she said. “That was pretty hard. I’ve asked myself ‘What if I don’t make it this time?’ The first couple of days I worried that I wouldn’t be here to watch him grow up. That just tore me apart.”
Jarrett is the central part of her life. He plays basketball for the Knightstown traveling team, and she watches all of his Saturday games when health permits. Her life often revolves around his athletic endeavors. Shortly after basketball season ends, baseball begins, and then it’s on to football.
By putting off the procedure to the first part of the year, Weidner realizes she might have put herself more at risk. But the financial constraints realistically wouldn’t have allowed any other course of action.
She is hoping to have the first surgery around January 2 or 3, when she will have lymph nodes removed. Although the cancer is just in her right breast, the same one as before, she’s having both removed this time if the insurance company will pay for the procedure.
“I want both of them removed even though the left one doesn’t have cancer,” Weidner said. “I would like to finally have some peace of mind. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen or not because the insurance company might not be willing to pay for that. There has already been disagreement between the insurance company and doctors over whether or not an MRI is needed. The doctors want it and the insurance won’t pay for it.
“I just want to get it done. If the left one is not removed there is a chance the breast cancer could someday come back in that one.”
Weidner says she realizes the struggle ahead of her. It will be financial, emotional, and challenging for her, family members and her young son. “The last time I went through this it was almost like we floated through it,” she said. “But now it’s been five weeks since I’ve found out and I haven’t had anything done yet.”
Weidner is doing her best to shield her son from the impending battle.
“I think if I have the right attitude it will make things a lot easier on Jarrett,” she said. “I cry a lot, but not in front of him. I try to joke about it sometimes. I still have a son to raise and I still have a life to live regardless of this.
“I’m constantly filling out paperwork trying to find financial help from everywhere I can. Sometimes I feel like my head is spinning just trying to keep everything straight. But I try to keep myself busy so I don’t think about it too much.
“I try not to think about death,” she said. “You don’t think cancer will happen again. It was a kick in the gut the first time, but it was a bigger kick in the gut this time.”
Weidner is a fighter. At this stage, she knows she has little choice but to be one.
“I didn’t let the fact that I had cancer before run my life, and it’s not going to now,” Weidner said. “I don’t sit and think about it 24 hours per day, seven days a week. I just go on and try to have a positive attitude.
“At my job I watch people and meet a lot of people. I’ve seen how everyone has struggles in life. I think people get so busy and caught up in life that you just sometimes go through the motions.
“I used to take life and health for granted, and I think people do that without realizing it. This is my second time with breast cancer, and I feel terrible about the impact it’s going to have on my family.
“But I’m going to go on and try to have a positive attitude. If you tell yourself it’s going to kill you, you’re letting it. It’s just the path of life you go down.
“I like myself better today,” Weidner said. “I’m a better person since my first cancer, and I hope I feel the same way this time. People say ‘Oh, you’re so strong’, but I don’t feel like I’m a strong person.
“I have bad days and I have good days, too. I just do what I have to do.”
For now, that means a reluctant acknowledgment that her time might be running out. At the same time, she portrays an outward appearance that gives the impression everything will be all right.
She says, “I just do what I have to do.”
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