Tracy Cushing is a force of a female. An ER physician with extensive knowledge in wilderness medicine, she also spent time in medical school as a physician in the direct aftermath of 9/11. She has had a plant based diet for over a decade and was training for her fifth ironman when she felt a lump in her breast. With no family history, only age 45 and previously clear mammograms, she figured it was nothing to worry about. Eight months later though, when the skin surrounding the lump began to change, Tracy decided to get it checked out. Even then, a mammogram came back normal, but further testing revealed stage 2 invasive lobular carcinoma with a 3.5 cm tumor.
It was shocking: “it was not a cancer that ever entered my mind as entering my life. I marched right into my surgeons office and said I wanted a double mastectomy with no reconstruction so I could get back to ironman training. Instead, I was referred to a mental health counselor and a plastic surgeon because no one could believe at age 45 I didn’t want reconstruction. I felt totally unseen and unheard and I wish someone had said to me ‘what are your objectives?’”
Tracy persevered and received a double mastectomy with no reconstruction, a decision she continues to feel thrilled with today. For her, the hardest part was early menopause and all of the symptoms that came with it, including osteoporosis. Additionally, she prioritized her mental health, fully aware that she didn’t want to burden her husband with her fears, while he was also processing. She was able to find a therapist who specialized in medical trauma, especially helpful because of the repeated trauma cancer can cause long after diagnosis, with follow up scans and treatments.
Tracey went on to complete that ironman a year later and she notes that “exercise and functionality were super important in my recovery and my mental health about this whole thing.” Her advocacy hasn’t stopped. She remains committed to getting more research on lobular breast cancer and spreading the word out about the fact that mammograms often aren’t reliable for those with dense breasts. She stresses how essential self checks are and most importantly, that being flat is a completely fine choice. Her blog (tracycrushescancer.blogspot.com) serves as her outlet to talk about all the intimate details and nastiness of breast cancer. She also has a podcast- Physician to Physician, Plant Based Nutrition- that she hopes gets people thinking about all the other factors that lead to a healthy lifestyle.
The entire experience of breast cancer has impacted her professional life too. Tracy is transitioning from being an ER physician to integrative oncology saying, ““I felt like my oncologist didn’t have time to address all the other pieces of my life that were going to affect my chances of recurrence and recovery. I really feel like there is a need to help people with all of those other pieces.” It’s a step she hopes will create more support for patients who otherwise may not even know where to begin when addressing lifestyle factors.
To those newly diagnosed, Tracy hopes they “take a really deep breath and slow down. You hear the word cancer and you feel like you have to find a solution right away, but the reality is that cancer took a while to grow and you have a minute to really think about how you want to approach your treatment path and surgical choices. Ask other survivors about their experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask to look at pictures. Just take a breath.”