“The chemo is killing the cancer, the chemo is killing the cancer” is the mantra Trillium Health Partners (THP) cancer patient Tracy Hurst recites to herself each night after treatment. In her early 50s, she exudes warmth and honesty, and is unfailingly positive despite her latest cancer diagnosis after over 10 years in remission.
Tracy recalls the moment, over a decade ago, when she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Her daughter was just nine months old and Tracy was only just adjusting to life as a new mom after fertility struggles. After chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiation, she was declared cancer-free in September 2011. She credits the Oncology team, which included Dr. Brian Higgins, Dr. Deepa Kumar and nurse Audrey O’Hare, with saving her life.
“I truly believe there’s no other place you want to be treated for cancer then Credit Valley Hospital.”
Then in 2019, Tracy began experiencing abdominal bloating, with no clear cause. Her family doctor immediately sent her to the Credit Valley Emergency Department (ED).
Sitting in the ED on a busy Friday evening and full of fear, she called her husband and asked him to drive back from the cottage. When she hung up she immediately saw Dr. Higgins walking by. It felt like fate, she recalls, as she explained why she was there. He was on-call that night, but he promised he’d follow up in the morning.
At midnight after an emergency CT scan Tracy and her husband got the news: she had ovarian cancer.
Dr. Higgins called the next morning.
“I said, give me the good, the bad and the ugly,” Tracy recalls. He told her matter of factly it was very likely advanced ovarian cancer but it didn’t appear to be in her lungs or liver yet.
He said, “You can do this. You just need to hit it head on and be super positive like last time.”
For Tracy his call speaks volumes about the incredible care you receive here.
“He proactively pulled my CT scan and I’m so grateful. He’s a busy guy. He didn’t need to do that.”
Tracy was referred to Gynecological Oncologist Dr. Tomer Feigenberg.
“He is so patient and really takes the time to go over treatment options and answer any questions. I am so thankful for him and the oncology nurses Lisa Ould Gallagher and Rita Tamas who have made me feel so supported.”
Tracy and her team decided on a treatment plan of exploratory surgery, chemotherapy, extensive surgery and then more chemotherapy.
Tracy remembers the moment as she lay waiting for her second surgery.
“An ED nurse leaned over and said, ‘Hug me and I’ll hold you’” as Tracy drifted off.
Her surgery was scheduled for four hours but went for nine – Dr. Feigenberg and his team didn’t stop until they removed as much of the cancer covering Tracy’s abdomen, uterus, diaphragm and spleen as possible.
“I am so fortunate for the dedication and tenacity Dr. Feigenberg and his team have shown me. You have to really trust your health care professionals and know that they have your best interest at heart,” Tracy says. “And the team at Credit Valley makes it so easy – you know you have the best care.”
Despite the toll the cancer and treatment can take, Tracy is committed to her passions. She regularly horseback rides with her now 11-year-old daughter, takes her dog on walks around her Brampton neighbourhood and spends the spring, summer and fall months hiking and swimming at her cottage.
“I have so much to live for and life is fantastic. My daughter and I always laugh and say I have ‘FOMO’ – Fear of Missing Out – and I don’t want to miss out on anything.”
Of course, it isn’t always easy to be so upbeat. “Cancer’s terrible. Some days are not great and you have to allow yourself the time to say ‘this is not good, this is a disaster’ and then move on.”
Tracy remains immensely grateful to her care team at Credit Valley, not only for her own exceptional treatment but for the holistic approach they take which focuses on the entire family’s wellbeing, not just the patient.
Tracy has been cancer-free since May of 2020 but because ovarian cancer has such a high recurrence rate she is receiving proactive chemotherapy, and sees Dr. Feigenberg every three weeks.
She is feeling well but her CA 125 – the indicator for ovarian cancer – has begun trending upwards. She barely flinches, calling it, “late breaking news.”
Tracy acknowledges it may seem unbelievable that someone going through cancer for the second time could ever feel lucky. But her optimism and positivity shines through as she explains what she means.
“This experience has given me and my family such a unique perspective on life. I look at my daughter, my magnetic North, and she’s brave and fearless and she loves life and she loves her mom,” she says, her voice breaking slightly. She takes a deep breath, a long exhale following.
“I am just so incredibly grateful to all of the doctors and nurses at Credit Valley.”
>> Inspired by this story? Consider donating to Trillium Health Partners today!