Pushing Up Daisies by Tracy Willis

Project Occupy Pinktober begins today. Throughout the month of October 2014, I am bringing guest posts from people who have been touched by metastatic breast cancer. Breast cancer is not pink and fluffy; it is a killer disease. This is not about saving breasts; it’s about saving lives. Thirty percent of everyone who gets breast cancer will develop metastasis. There is no cure. The goal of treatment is merely to prolong life and reduce suffering. We deserve better. Please like and share these posts to spread the word. Thank you, Knot Telling


A flower in Tracy's gardenGone to meet their maker, out of their misery, travelling a different path, pushing up daisies. Call it what you will but for goodness sake don’t say dead.

Great-great grandmother – dead – age 45.
Great-great aunt – dead – age 47.
Great grandmother – dead – age 50.
Great aunt – dead – age 44.
Grandmother – dead – age 49.
Aunt – dead – age 50.
Mother – dead – age 46.

If you say dead and list the names it looks like the roll call on a war memorial. In fact it’s worse because no epitaph contains so many members of the same family. These women, my family, did not go to war. They were placid, careful, peace-loving citizens quietly going about their lives and striving to raise their families. Children that many of them never saw grow up, get married, or have families of their own.

You see, each of these women developed breast cancer in their late 30’s or early 40’s. Each went through countless surgeries, treatments and indignities. Each thought they’d come through.

No-one made it.

Not one of them survived. . .

Metastatic breast cancer killed them all.

I knew two of these relatives, my aunt and my mother. The rest were long dead before I was a glint in anyone’s eye, before my parents even met each other. Mum and Aunt Jen both developed breast cancer around the age of 40 and they both resolved to survive. They lived in different parts of the country but both had good surgeons, skilled oncologists and attentive nurses. None of that made any difference. They both developed metastatic breast cancer and within months they were both dead. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of them, think of what they went through, wish they’d had that pink cancer – the one everyone survives – so they could still be here with me now. I cannot explain what coming from a family with a near 100% death rate from metastatic breast cancer feels like. A family that doesn’t carry the BRCA genes. I can tell you breast cancer is not a “good” cancer, the “easy” cancer, or the one with “really excellent prospects thanks to more advanced treatments.”  Just over two years ago at the age of 42 I was diagnosed with aggressive HER2+ breast cancer. There was nothing good or easy about it and my chemo regime was almost identical to the one my mother went through in 1994!

So you’ll have to forgive me when I state, point blank, that pink is for Barbie NOT breast cancer and the only similarities between me and Barbie are our fake, nippleless breasts. I hope, want, need, to be the first in my family to buck the metastatic trend because without that hope I’d be lost. Breaking my family’s hearts in the same way mine was broken in 1996 is a thought I can’t begin to entertain. Only time will tell.

Breast cancer remains an unforgiving disease with unforgivable consequences. Those living with metastatic breast cancer, their loved ones and friends spend each day on the edge of the void. For them death is coming and breast cancer’s true colour can only ever be black. Black as the void, as deep and dark and empty as furthest point in any possible universe.

Please stop pink ignorance.

Please start facing reality.

Metastatic breast cancer continues to kill far too many women across the globe.

About Tracy: “I’m 45, married, and Mom to a 21 year old son. By profession I’m a technologist, have always been a career woman and am now rebuilding my career following a HER2+ breast cancer diagnosis aged 42. I’m also rebuilding my stamina and mobility because Herceptin left my knee and ankle joints in very bad shape. I love cats (have seven of them, mainly rescued) and find solace in nature, photography, painting and drawing. I live in the countryside, work for a university and inherited a stubborn streak – probably just as well given family history. I blog about cancer and the trials it brings at www.fecthis.wordpress.com and potter about in www.theasymmetryofmatter.wordpress.com to escape through art.”

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11 Responses

  1. Elizabeth J. says:

    My family rollcall isn’t quite as bad as yours, we’ve had some survivors and the “family curse” usually hits in the 60s, not 40s (except it hit me in my 50s). I am the 3rd generation in a row and my family is BRCA negative as well. I had a cousin (in her 60s) going through breast cancer at the same time as I was.
    I regularly thank God that I have seen my children grow up, for there are too many who do not. But then I beg and plead with God to have time with my grandchildren, to see my still-single children married.
    Like my grandmother, my breast cancer is in my bones. Breast cancer is not pink!

    • Tracy says:

      I hope you have a good medical team who can help you keep cancer at bay for as long as possible so you see your single children married and get to enjoy your grandchildren. My Mum died when my son was just 3, she adored him but he cannot remember her – that breaks my heart a little every day. Bone mets showed up in my family too, not pink for anyone and still so poorly acknowledged by the media. I hope Knots campaign will shed a spotlight where it’s so desperately needed.

  2. Diane says:

    Tracy, as always well said. I hope this finds you well, it’s been a while since we’ve chatted. Say hi to your dad for me. Hugs girl ~D

    • Tracy says:

      Thanks Diane, I’m good – how about you? My Dad’s still working ridiculous hours but we talk most evenings and will often turn our thoughts to you, our friend across the sea. How are the little ones? Sending love from us both xoxox

  3. dear Tracy,

    such a sobering and sad family history of your kinswomen, all of them gone so young. the collective losses and sorrow are unimaginable. thank you for sharing your story with such raw candor, and for putting the awful truth of metastatic breast cancer in perspective where it belongs – in reality , and NOT in pink.

    much love,

    Karen xoxox

  4. Maxine D says:

    Hmmm – I too have a similar roll call – not necessarily all from the family, but close enough to hurt.
    Prayers and blessings

  5. Kathi says:

    Wow, Tracy. I’m so glad you shared this post. Clearly, there are more hereditary genetic mutations that cause breast cancer than the two BRCA genes that have been found and labeled. If ever anyone needed another reason to be convinced that we need more research, especially into metastatic breast cancer, your family’s story provides.

    I hate what this month has become, but more and more of us are speaking out about what our real priorities should be. I hope you can continue to keep the beast at bay. Much love to you. Kathi

  6. Robin says:

    My story is similar. Grandmother, mother, sister (bc 2xs), aunts, uncles, niece and one previvor niece. They all passed too young of cancer except my sister and nieces. Four of us got tested for BRCA. Three were positive, one was negative, me. Now I gave leukemia. Someone needs to stop the monster.

  7. Tracy,
    Your post is so powerful, so poignant and so important. Thank you for writing it and thank you TellingKnots for sharing it on your blog. I am sorry for all the heartache your family has endured, Tracy. It is truly heart-wrenching. Stories like yours certainly make it clear we have so far to go yet regarding understanding hereditary risk. This is one reason I get frustrated sometimes because many people seem to think #HBOC week focuses solely on the brca 1 and 2 mutations and people who test positive for those. There is still so much to learn. Thanks again for sharing.

  8. Tracy, thanks for sharing your story and family history. Sobering indeed. There’s not a whole lot to say in light of such grievous statistics except that we who know you through the blogosphere love you, wish you good health and that you will beat your familial odds. xoxo

  9. mae says:

    Hey Tracy – such a powerful story and sobering. I have a friend who has a similar history. Her oncologist tells her the gene responsible for her family history has probably not been discovered yet. Sending you nothing but warm hugs!

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