Tracy Slavin got some funny looks walking through the mall a few months ago, sporting her bright pink Mohawk. But she didn't care, she was having fun. And if anyone deserved to have fun, it was Tracy.
She had been diagnosed a few months earlier with invasive ductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer. She was in her first round of chemotherapy. Her curly blond hair, which she had cut short in anticipation, was starting to fall out, and she just wanted to have fun with it.
"I did that for my kids. For myself and for my kids. I wanted them to look at it is, there's something wrong, still we can still have fun," Tracy said. "Humor is how I cope with things. This was the one time in my life when I could be wild and not care. It was my one opportunity to say screw it, this is the life I was given and we're going to hive fun with it now."
And that's exactly the attitude Tracy has taken as she battles breast cancer. She's been amazingly strong, amazingly upbeat. She inspires me, makes me want to be a better person. Heck, if Tracy can be this positive while dealing with something like breast cancer, I should on top the world.
I grew up with Tracy, who was then Tracy Bowlin. I don't know exactly when we became friends, but we were pretty close in high school at Fallston, playing softball together. (And, occasionally getting in trouble when we would leave class early the day of a game. I'd borrow a friend's car, and we'd go for a ride. That one ride was pretty scary, huh, Tracy?) We stayed tight for a while after high school, too, and I attended both her weddings.
But, as time passed, I became a bad friend, and we talked less and less. She moved all the way to Elkton, for heaven's sake! There's no excuse. Yet, even if we don't talk often, I still consider Tracy a good friend, and I can pick up with her where we left off without missing a beat.
Tracy turned 40 in August 2012, about six months after I did, and that means time for the annual mammogram, which she got in January. It came back clean.
A few weeks later, in February, she got what she's come to call "a little pinch from God." She pinched her nipple in a laundry basket.
It still hurt two months later and her nipple had become inverted. At the urging of her husband, Scott, she went to the doctor, who sent her to a breast surgeon at Union Hospital in Elkton.
After a biopsy, she get the call on May 2, that she had breast cancer. She left work and went straight to her husband's office.
"And I lost it. I was woe is me and asked how could God do this to me? Why me? What the heck, how did I get this?" she said. "That's probably the only day I was like that."
She left her husband's office and returned to work and, ever since, has taken the proverbial "bull by the horns" and battled her breast cancer head on. She's doing the research, she's getting support from others who have fought breast cancer and she's being very proactive.
On June 19, her left breast was removed, and cancer was found in three of the 14 lymph nodes, which meant chemotherapy and radiation.
Last week, Tracy finished her fourth round of chemo. Her hair is gone and she's experimenting with different wigs.
Her last chemo round is Nov. 5. Four to six weeks after that she starts six weeks of Monday through Friday radiation, which should wrap up by the beginning to middle of February.
Three months after that, she can get her tummy tuck and boob job.
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel, I tell people. New headlights," she jokes.
Tracy has also done her research, and will have her right breast removed at the same time to decrease the chances of the cancer coming back by 90 percent.
She's also learned through testing she doesn't carry the cancer gene, which is "a very big relief, a big breath of fresh air," particularly as it relates to her sons, Garrett, 5. and Grant, 3.
Tracy has always been a "go with the flow" kind of person, and her cancer diagnosis is no different.
"If someone had told me two years ago I would have had the attitude I do, I wouldn't have believed it," she said. "You don't know how strong you're going to be or how strong you have to be," she said.
"I don't feel like an amazing person," Tracy said. "I just fee like I'm doing what I have to do, not only for my kids but for my well-being. I was told at the beginning, you have to be strong, because if not, you're not going to make it. It's just another bump in the road, so let's add some humor to it."
Her husband has been her rock.
"There's a reason the Lord gave me Scott, there really is. He's been wonderful. He's been my shoulder, and it's nice to have that type of support," Tracy said.
She's been very upfront with her 5-year-old, the sensitive Garrett, who's worried his mommy is in pain. She and Scott have had to explain repeatedly she's not. She even let him pull out some her hair once that started.
Financially her family is struggling. Scott is just starting an insurance business and the bills are mounting, and mounting, and mounting. Tracy says they'll probably have to file bankruptcy once her treatment is finally finished. Anyone who wants to help the family can donate at http://www.gofundme.com/4kmv6c.
As we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Tracy stresses that early detection is key. Just because you have a clean mammogram, she says, if something is off, go have it looked at.
"How many people are walking around thinking they have a clean mammogram and they don't? In a year or two who knows where I could have been," she said.
Hopefully, we won't have to find out.
I admire Tracy for her bravado, for her strength, for her humor. If ever something happened to me, which I pray daily doesn't, I hope I can have half the strength she has. Even so, she makes me want to be a better person, a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, whatever. Thank you, Tracy.