In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

October 23, 2014

From Caregiver to Patient: Tracey’s Survivor Story

By In the Loop

Tracey Samuelson

In 2012, Tracey Samuelson noticed that her left breast looked different than the right. She chalked it up to the rigors of childbirth and breastfeeding. Besides, she told herself, there wasn't a lump. Still, when she went for a routine physical exam at the beginning of 2013, the change in her breast was still in the back of her mind. So she mentioned it to her primary care provider, Joanna Setla, M.D., who suggested Tracey have a mammogram … just in case.

Expecting to go back home immediately afterward, Tracey, a triage nurse in Orthopedics at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was surprised when Dr. Setla asked her to stick around. Her surprise turned to concern when a second mammogram was ordered, followed by an ultrasound. Then Dr. Setla sat Tracey down and told her they needed to call a surgeon. David Ciresi, M.D., confirmed what Tracey feared: she had breast cancer.

"I sat there and listened and tried to remember all the important information I had learned about breast cancer so I could prepare myself better," she tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. "Nothing prepared me for the moment when my doctor said I would lose my hair. I broke down and finally realized this was happening to me." Tracey was told she would need to go through intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments. As a nurse, she knew exactly what the side effects would be, she tells Eau Claire's WQOW-TV. It was the loss of her hair that scared her the most. "People see right away," she says. "You look sick when you don't have hair."

But, as Tracey said in a speech at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk last weekend in Eau Claire, she decided to turn that fear upside down by allowing her two daughters to cut her hair for her. Her husband, Tim, who also works for Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, gave the girls finger paint so they could add their own artistic touch to Tracey's new look. "They made my worst fear into one of my best memories," Tracey said. "No one was crying. We were all laughing."

They stuck with that approach through it all -- the chemo, the radiation and reconstructive surgeries -- until the day finally came when her doctors said the word she and her family had been hoping to hear: remission. Tracey says she'll be forever grateful to her Mayo care team (also her colleagues) for providing her with the same level of care she herself has tried to give to her own patients. "They helped me to start feeling comfortable about telling my story," she says.

You can hear Tracey talk more about her breast cancer story in the video below, created by Mayo Clinic Health System. Then show us a thing or two by sharing your comments and by sharing this story with others.


Tags: Breast Cancer, Dr. David Ciresi, Dr. Joanna Setla, Employee Stories, Patient Stories

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