Tracy Dwyer had always been healthy and loved exercising to stay in shape. When she began experiencing rectal bleeding, she was referred by her gynecologist to a colorectal surgeon. He performed a sigmoidoscopy and discovered a cancerous polyp that was so small he was amazed she had any symptoms. Tracy was diagnosed with stage I colon cancer at age 36.
After surgery to remove part of her colon, Tracy’s doctor told her, “The sooner you move, the sooner you’ll heal.” Those words encouraged her to walk a bit farther each day; her
goal was to reach the other side of the hospital to see the newborn babies. Tracy was back at the gym eight weeks after surgery, lifting weights and doing aerobics. She even decided to tread on new territory by training to run a race. She recalls standing at the starting line on the morning of the race and thinking about how far she’d come.
With cancer behind her, Tracy realizes that “someday is today” and that she’s accomplished more since her diagnosis than she ever thought she could. She uses her experience to raise awareness about cancer and to teach others the importance of eating right and exercising. She believes staying healthy and active is the key to making the most of each day.
Tracy’s story as told by Tracy
I was born and raised in Southern California where I attended Loyola Marymount University and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Arts. I love the beach, running, swimming, water skiing, and biking. Cancer was a turning point for me in many ways. Successfully surviving the disease made any obstacle that got in the way of my lifetime goals to be minor in comparison.
Cancer never strikes at an opportune time. When it hit me I was moving with my young son, Justin, to San Jose, California, after years of running my own business in Los Angeles. It was a hard move because all my family and friends were in Southern California, but I wanted to work in a television station and possibly become a news reporter. A job opened up for a camera operator and I took the job, even though it required a move. I was working at a television station as a camera operator for the 5 and 11 O’clock news. I also worked as a physical education instructor during the day. Having two part time jobs allowed me to spend time with my son and to take him to his sporting events. I started studying nutrition and the benefits of fresh fruits, vegetables, and juicing. We stopped eating meat and anything that included preservatives or additives. I had a membership at the gym and exercised every morning.
Like many colon cancer patients, one day I noticed some rectal bleeding. I was under a lot of stress at the time so I thought it was due to stress or hemorrhoids. The bleeding only lasted for a few days then stopped. I thought everything was okay, but a few days later it returned and was heavier. The only doctor I saw in those days was my gynecologist, who I saw once a year for my annual exam. I told him I was in the best shape of my life, I was feeling great, but I had some bleeding. He confirmed that I had hemorrhoids, but they did not look bad. He sent me to a surgeon who performed a sigmoidoscopy and found a polyp. He removed it at the time and sent it out for a biopsy. When he showed it to me I thought it looked like an evil thing, but I felt I would be fine because I was taking care of myself and felt great. One week later he had me come back and told me I had Stage I colon cancer and needed a colon resection to make sure the cancer had not spread to my vital organs. Within a few weeks I went in for the colon resection, and spent a week in the hospital. During this time I was told that the cancer had not spread and I would require no further treatment.
Cancer was a turning point in my life. I felt my mission in life must be to talk to people about health, nutrition, exercise, and cancer awareness. Since my successful early diagnosis and surgery I became a runner and ran in many races and started weight lifting and body building. I keep my body strong and healthy through always eating a clean diet filled with foods that benefit my body and give me the energy I need. I became a Toastmaster to learn how to speak in public so I could speak to people about colon cancer and how to live a healthy lifestyle. I study nutrition so I can keep myself healthy and help others to learn how to eat healthy. I have been cancer free for 14 years. I get a colonoscopy every other year and I speak to people about my experience with cancer and urge everyone to get their colonoscopy if they have any bleeding or unusual bowel problems. I became a spokes person for the American Cancer Society and have written articles and done interviews for the news and other programs that spread the word about colon cancer and the fact that you can be young, strong, and still get colon cancer.
I was involved in a serious traffic accident. Because of my healthy eating and exercise I did not break any bones, but my back and neck were seriously injured. I was unable to work for months and spent a few months in physical therapy. I used swimming as therapy and exercise through my recovery. Drawing from my prior experience from colon surgery I knew how important it was to keep moving in whatever way possible to keep strong, and prevent muscle atrophy. After a few months I was able to go back to work and resume running and lifting weights.
Knowing how important positive thinking is I listened to every motivational speaker who had a tape and read many books. Anthony Robbins and Norman Cousins became two of my favorites along with Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar. I began applying their principles to my every day life especially that of visualization and acting as if I already had what I wanted. I decided I wanted to become an actor and took some classes in acting. I passed my headshot and resume out and before long I was getting called to be in television, movies and commercials. I set goals and before long I was achieving one goal after another on my list.
One of my goals was to learn to fly a plane and helicopter and to meet the man of my dreams. After my father passed away, I met Jerry, a helicopter pilot for the U. S. Army. It did not take long for us to know that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. He was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas and given command of a Chinook unit. We stopped at our favorite hotel in Carmel on the way to Texas, where he proposed marriage to me on the balcony overlooking the ocean with the sun setting. Shortly after we arrived in Texas we were married. I was an active member of the Big T Toastmasters club where I was President and achieved my second Advanced Toastmasters Gold Award. I was also a member of the Officers Wives’ Club and Family Readiness Group with the U. S. Army.
I was suffering from back pain during my time in Texas and underwent a procedure at Crestwood Hospital in Huntsville, Alabama. The hospital where I did my back surgery was having a display of Coco the Colossal Colon. I went to see it during my recovery and met some of the nurses there who suggested I should be in the Colondar. They gave me a copy and I thought it was fabulous! Any chance I get to speak to people about my experience with colon cancer I do it. I offered to speak at the hospital and to help in any way possible at the event. When I got home I sent a letter and photo to The Colondar. I got a response from Molly, who told me that they already had the 2007 models, but I should apply for the 2008 Colondar.
Last year I met another of my goals which was to take flying lessons. My husband worked with an instructor at the Redstone Flying Club. My goal had always been to learn to fly and fly for Angel Flight. After having the colon resection for colon cancer I started going to The City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte in Southern California. Since I was living in Northern California, Angel Flight would have one of their pilots fly me down to my appointments and back. I thought it was an outstanding public service of them to help cancer patients, and I wanted to give back some day by doing the same thing. Now, years later, I am getting a chance to achieve my goal.
My goal at this point is to continue with my flying instruction and earn my private pilots license and get instrument rated. I also plan to run a marathon, be in a body building contest, become a Pilates instructor and continue working with people on diet and exercise programs. I will also continue my education and earn my Masters Degree. Being diagnosed with colon cancer at an early age, and acting quickly upon finding the first symptoms, provided me with the ability to use this experience as a positive lifetime turning point. I hope all colon cancer survivors have the opportunity to achieve their lifetime goals.