Tracy Davidson's Breast Cancer Message: Don't Wait

The next time you run into Tracy Davidson, say “Congratulations.” The NBC10 anchor is nearly finished with radiation treatments for early stage breast cancer and she considers herself the luckiest person on the planet.

“This is going to sound crazy, but I’ve never felt more blessed,” Davidson said last week as she was catching a little down time between her morning news anchor duties and a trip to Penn Medicine in the final days of treatment. “Amazing things can happen when you’re facing something like this.”

The “C” word can send a patient’s thoughts to dark places — and Tracy admittedly spent a little time there. But her story is positive. Now she’s talking openly about her diagnosis so she can put a megaphone to one simple message: DON’T WAIT.

We sat down with Tracy to talk more about her “Don’t Wait” message and found that during her treatment, she discovered and relied upon some wonderful people, tips and advice that helped both mentally and physically. We’re passing that information along, hoping it may help you or someone you love.

Tracy, what happened? How did you find out you had breast cancer?

Tracy: I think I was getting dressed a couple of times over the course of a couple of days and I felt something and thought, ‘Hmmm, this isn’t just, this isn’t really right.’ And like most people I thought for a second, ‘Oh, I’ll just blow this off. I’m sure it’s gonna be fine.’ And then I didn’t. I called my doctor and she said, ‘Come in.’ She checked it out, she said, ‘Yes, you need to go get a mammogram. I went and got a mammogram. That didn’t show anything. I got an ultrasound and they said, ‘Yes, we have to do a biopsy.’ I got a biopsy. I got an MRI. I met with a surgeon and I had the surgery. I felt the lump on December 31, made the first call to my first doctor on January 2 and I had the surgery on January 27.

Your doctor called you at home to give you the diagnosis on a Friday night. Friends happened to be over. You hung up the phone. What did you say?

I think I came into my living room and I said, ‘So, it’s cancer.’ And yeah, I was upset, but not for long. And then I just got into, ‘Let’s do this! I’m a fixer! And, here’s a “blessing” story — I already had a girl day planned for Saturday. So I had that next day with my best girlfriends to sort of absorb it all. But I was very hopeful. It wasn’t devastating. I was positive from the beginning and to me, it was all doable.

So tell us — What is your diagnosis and how are you being treated?

The best words I continue to repeat to so many people that my oncologist told me are, ‘You HAD cancer. You HAD cancer. It’s gone.’ I had early stage breast cancer. I’m finishing radiation on Monday and then I’ll go on a course of Tamoxifen. I had a lumpectomy. They also removed lymph nodes. Everything was clean. My margins were clean and nothing was found in the lymph nodes. So, I HAD — past tense — cancer.

Is there a family history of breast cancer?

My mother had breast cancer, but in her later years. And I did have all the testing done and I don’t have any of the genes.

What have you learned medically through this process that would be helpful to others?

Ice is your friend! For me, after my surgery the ice bag was my friend in helping me feel better in the 24-48 hours after my surgery.

Just ask questions. There are so many people who want to help you and so don’t be afraid to say, ‘Can someone else help me with this?’ ‘If you can’t answer my question, can somebody else help me?’ Because I can’t say enough good things about every person I’ve encountered in all of my treatment. I also, one of the first things I did was run down to the local Rite Aid and bought a spiral notebook where I just wrote down questions as they came up. I kept all my contact information in there and I journaled some too. That all helped.

Know the health care workers are there for you. Everybody wants to be helpful and even though they’ve seen many people before you and they’ll see many people after you, everyone who I came into contact with had great compassion and great understanding that, ‘This is my first time.’ I’ve not had a lumpectomy before. I’ve not had radiation before. And people get that. And as long as you ask questions, they’re there to help you.

What’s your advice for people who get a cancer diagnosis or any tough or scary diagnosis?

The best advice I can give for someone who gets a diagnosis: Let people help you. Especially for women, I think that we don’t like to say, ‘I need this,’ or ‘could you help me?’ because we don’t want to put the burden on someone else. We always want to do for others. But what I’ve learned and I knew before but what I’ve really learned is that you’re giving a gift to somebody else when you allow them to help you. If one of your friends told you they had been diagnosed with breast cancer, you would say, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ And if you’re the person and you say nothing, nothing, nothing, that sort of denies them their ability to better connect with you; to help — to do something.

So, I’ve been happy to say to my friends, ‘Sure you can make me really healthy and nutritious food.’ ‘Sure you can take turns driving me to radiation when I start to get tired.’ Yeah. ‘Sure you can pray for me, sure you can call me and text me notes of encouragement. Absolutely!

Gloria Lewis talks about the importance of relying on friends and family. She is one of the friends who drove Tracy Davidson to her daily radiation treatments.

What do you feel you’ve learned through this journey about breast cancer or cancer in general that you’d like to pass on?

That there can be positive stories. I feel for people who are struggling with a cancer or breast cancer diagnosis and are struggling with the treatment. Certainly we’ve heard the story and certainly I know people. I’m grateful to have a positive story.

My message to everyone is: don’t wait. I didn’t wait. Like most people, it probably would have been easy to blow off something that didn’t feel right in my body like we all do. ‘I’ll get it next week …’ But don’t wait. Don’t wait. Take action. And that’s why I have a positive story. I have a positive story because I didn’t wait. 

You were on the fence for a while about whether you’d go public and let people know you had breast cancer. Why did you decide it would be worthwhile to talk about?

I thought about it and I really feel strongly that I’ve been given this place, this career, this position in life so that I can help people. And when this happened to me, not only did I feel incredibly blessed because everything was positive and I had so much support, and really I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, but I thought, ‘Could I help other people? Is there something in this experience that could help other people?’ Because, really, I don’t want to talk about me, you know? But if I can help other people, that’s why I’ve been put here.

And so when I talked to friends and said, ‘Would this help people?’ and they said, ‘Yes, because it is good to hear a positive story, and it is good to plant the seed: don’t wait.’ Don’t wait.

Penn Medicine Radiation Therapist Rose Catrambone’s advice for first-time patients, the importance of a positive attitude and why the “Don’t Wait” message from Tracy Davidson is an important one when it comes to health concerns.

Even though we see you on the news every day, you are a private person and at times fiercely protective of that privacy. What do you think it’s going to be like once this goes public? What do you expect and how do you hope it evolves … in the way in which people react to you?

I don’t think I’ve thought that far down the line except that I hope it gets people talking about, ‘I really do need to go get that mammogram,’ or you know, ‘I saw Tracy Davidson and she said, I didn’t think it was anything, but then she thought, hmmm she should get this checked out so I thought maybe I should get this checked out.’ If I hear that, if I hear even one story that tells me, ‘I wasn’t going to do anything, I felt something a week ago and I wasn’t going to do anything, I thought it would just go away.’ If I hear even one story like that, I will be very happy. Very, very happy and this will be all worthwhile.

People at times struggle with what to say when they find out someone has cancer or an illness, what should people say?

Great to see you!

Should they acknowledge?

Sure! I mean I’m talking about it because I want people to talk about it in their own lives. So yeah, do you want to talk about it? I’ll talk about it. I’d love to talk about it. I’d love to tell you how again I feel like the luckiest person on the planet. I’d love to tell you how I’ve had the best and most compassionate medical care, that I have great support, and that’s why I think, you know that’s why I think I’ve done OK so far because I’ve had all that.

There was one thing you really hated about the treatment.

You know it’s really interesting. So, you know me, I’m a doer. I was told, ‘OK, here’s what you’re gonna do.’ I’m thinking, ‘This is all doable.’ From the surgery to the radiation, it’s going to be six weeks. Here’s where you’ll go, here’s what it’ll look like and you’ll get red and you’ll get irritated.’ OK. I was fine with it all until they told me that they needed to give me tiny dots that are tattoos, so that I can line up in the radiation machine so that it can all be, the treatment can all be laid out. And for whatever reason, when I was told that I had to have my body tattooed, I started crying. I have no idea where that came from. I don’t know if it was the permanence, though I have scars now, proud to have scars, but, yeah, so now I have tattoos.

Right after her breast cancer diagnosis, Tracy Davidson bought a notebook to keep track of questions and contacts. She also used it as a journal. We asked her to read a couple of entries.

Your attitude — we have to talk about that because I think it’s one of the gifts you give everyone. What has attitude done for you in this journey?

A positive attitude and my faith have completely sustained me through this. Completely. And that’s not to say I’ve always been chipper. But for the most part, I can do this and I feel grateful, really grateful.

I was positive from the beginning. I mean it is a shock when you hear it, but then after I sort of took it in, and I was given a road map — here’s what your options are, here’s how to take care of everything, one step at a time.

Yeah, of course, there are some meltdown moments. I don’t stay there very long. I think I’ve learned staying in the meltdown moment too long doesn’t really get you anywhere. I think you have to experience the sadness for a few minutes. After that, it’s time to get things done.

Tracy Davidson talks about finding strength from faith when you’re facing illness.

If you were writing the “Be good to self” prescription for others, what would it say?

Eat well. Even when you think, ‘Oh, a cheeseburger sounds really good.’ Try to eat well. Try to move. Try to have quiet time in this world of chaos and distraction and technology. Try to have quiet time. Try to have real quality time with other people. And work on saying that word NO. Really practice saying that word NO.

In your quiet time now, in those moments of reflection, what thoughts do you sit with?

I keep going back to gratitude. If you walk through the day, grateful, it’s hard to have a bad day. If you walk through the day counting your blessings, it’s hard to have a bad day. And so even with this, it’s hard to have a bad day because I’m just so grateful — that I have such a positive story to tell, so you know, you asked earlier, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Because I have a positive story to tell, that I hope someone will hear, ‘Don’t Wait’ and then they will have a positive story to tell as a result of Don’t Wait.

You can follow and talk with Tracy Davidson on her Facebook page, her personal blog and Twitter @TracyDavidson. JoinTracy and the NBC10 Morning team each weekday from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. on NBC10.

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