Tracy Strahlendorff (the gorgeous blond on the right) is my best friend. She's my "person"--the one who's always in my corner and the one who can tell me when I'm being a jerk. That friend who celebrates my highs and crawls in the hole with me for my lows.
She's 39 years old and a mother to Shyla, the most amazing 5 year old I have ever met.
A week ago, we were talking about light fixtures and furniture for the fixer-upper home she just bought in September with the love of her life, Dustin, and laughing about how living without a kitchen wasn't really affecting her since she doesn't like to cook.Two days later, we were talking about cancer. Her cancer.
Inflammatory breast cancer--which I would later learn is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that isn't even discovered until you're already in stage 3 or 4. The news brought me to my knees. Immediately, I thought of my "niece" and the possibility that she could live a life without my friend as her mother. The air left my lungs.
Google offered no solace--this cancer is a relentless bitch.
The days since have been a whirlwind--a biopsy confirmed she has a malignant tumor in her breast and an ultrasound revealed the cancer has spread to her lymph nodes. We held our breath for the next few days while we waited for the results of an MRI of her brain, a bone scan and a CAT scan--all done to determine if this rapidly advancing cancer has spread to any of her other organs.
Miraculously, the other tests have given us good news. It appears that the cancer is centralized to her breast and lymph nodes, which gives us a glimmer of hope in a somewhat grim diagnosis. Yesterday, the chemo port was implanted in her chest, and it all became real. This fight is going to take everything she has, and it won't be easy--4 months of chemo, followed by a mastectomy, and then months of radiation.
Two nights ago, she had to share the news with her 5 year old daughter. Shyla has an ACTIVE imagination (you should hear this kid tell a story), so Tracy thought it was best to be honest with her. She told her about mommy's cancer and that she would be getting medicine that would make her lose her hair.
"The talk" went well, and shortly after Shyla appeared with this picture she drew for her mom:
As Shyla explained, this is a checklist. The top picture shows Tracy now, then a bald Tracy when her hair falls out. The third picture is the medicine, then a picture of Tracy with her hair growing back. And the last picture is Tracy "when Mommy can do anything." The boxes will be checked off as Tracy goes through each stage.
I told you...the kid's brain is unbelievable.
Tracy has an incredible support system--her fiance, Dustin, her parents, siblings and extended family, and a huge network of friends. What she doesn't have is the means to cover all her medical bills. She is a straight commission salesperson, so if she's not working, she's not making money, and she will not be able to do her job while she battles this. So, her income will stop effective immediately. Dustin will also lose income as he makes sacrifices to care for Tracy and their daughter.
As we spent an entire day at the cancer center on her 10 year anniversary with Dustin and the day of Shyla's first Christmas Concert, we talked about her fears --how her treatment would impact her family, how many more things in her life she would have to miss out on, her concern that they would have to sell the house they just purchased and have spent months fixing up. Here's the thing: my friend is a very proud person--she would be the first person to give you the shirt off her back, but struggles with asking for help. At that moment, the "best friend tough love" kicked in and I turned to her and said that she would get through this, but would "have to suck up her pride and accept some help" (with some curse words added in for effect). This is where you come in.
You may know Tracy. Or she may be a complete stranger. But please know that whatever you choose to invest in her--her life, her family, her home and the future of that little girl with the HUGE imagination--it's going to an incredible human being and partner, a loving mother, a dedicated sister and daughter, and the best friend anyone could ask for.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you in advance for finding room in your heart to help this family.