Guest commentary: Pay It Forward

By Tracey Burkey

Life was good! My husband and I married in August 2014. My youngest son was a sophomore in high school and all our adult kids were healthy and thriving. We were also proud grandparents to a beautiful granddaughter. I had a job that I loved. I had the best family and friends anyone could wish for. I was on top of the world. Until I wasn’t.

On March 24, 2015, my life as I knew it changed forever. After a routine mammogram I was told I had breast cancer. At 51 years old my life would change forever. My treatment began with 16 grueling rounds of chemotherapy. This was followed by a double mastectomy and then reconstructive surgery.

Fast forward to January 2016. Treatment and five surgeries were behind me. My hair was starting to grow back. I began my 10 years of Tamoxifen treatment. I could endure unpleasant and painful side effects if the cancer was gone! I could be ‘back to normal.’ At least that’s what well-meaning people would say.

Most cancer patients are so focused on treatment and beating cancer. What came next blindsided me. What do I do now? How should I feel? When the phone rings I expect the worst. When I experience a little ache or pain, I panic. I was raw inside and the thought of facing any unwelcome news was more than I could handle. Many survivors have a form of PTSD after treatment and don’t realize it.

I had many angels along my journey. The kindness of a friend helped me to face my fear of chemo. When I asked how I could ever repay her she said, “Pay it forward.” Throughout my journey I have seen many friends diagnosed with cancer. It makes me sad and angry! I had to do something small to make a difference.

My friend’s words stayed with me. One of the main things I did was to start volunteering with the American Cancer Society (ACS). This enabled me to connect with so many others who have been impacted by this disease – whether as patients, survivors, thrivers, or caregivers. I also learned more about how the programs that ACS supports make a difference to those battling the disease and their families. For example, Road to Recovery provides free rides to those who otherwise couldn’t get to treatment. Hope Lodge provides free lodging for those who need to travel far for further testing or treatment. And the support line is available 24/7 at 1.800.227.2345 for those who need someone to talk to anytime or to get non-biased cancer information to make an important decision about their cancer journey.

I have experienced how important it is, not only to raise awareness and funds for research, but also to support the programs and services the ACS provides. Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is taking place on Oct. 16 in Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse. I invite you, your family, friends, and co-workers to join me in walking the 2.0-mile course to raise much needed funds for research, education, advocacy, and patient service programs. The dollars we raise offer hope to so many and the event provides all of us – breast cancer survivors and thrivers, patients, caregivers, and families – a chance to be seen and heard!

This October, commit yourself to making a difference. Schedule your mammogram (if you are of screening age) or encourage those you love to get screened and sign up today at Let’s pay it forward – together – this October.