Tracie Solum was just living her life, minding her own business, and then things changed. A routine mammogram last October, just days after her 40th birthday, revealed suspicious tissue in her left breast. Follow-up diagnostic tests and a biopsy confirmed her worst fears — cancer. “I thought it was a death sentence,” Tracie said. “I thought my family was going to lose me.”
A wife, a mother of two daughters, an administrative supervisor at Northfield Hospital’s Women’s Health Center, Tracie had always been vigilant about self-exams. What she didn’t know is that she inherited a gene from her father, the BRCA 2, which dramatically elevated her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Her best option was surgery. Tracie immediately chose Northfield Hospital & Clinics. “I never even considered another option,” she said. “I knew I’d be in the hospital a couple of days and wanted to be close to family and friends.” On November 19, Tracie underwent a six-hour procedure. Melanie Dixon, MD, an OB/GYN specialist at Women’s Health Center, performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy and a bilateral oophorectomy (ovary removal). Jose Fulco, MD, a general surgeon, performed a bilateral mastectomy, and Themistocles Economou, MD, a plastic surgeon, performed the first phase of breast reconstruction. “The three surgeons coordinated their schedules, which was a relief,” Tracie said. “It wasn’t long after my diagnosis that I did have surgery, and I think it was because of the hospital” that it happened so quickly and was so well-coordinated. “You’re given news that shakes up your world. But every step was laid out for me,” Tracie said. “I was able to concentrate on the road ahead of me, and getting well. “I was able to keep my family as normal as possible.” Dr. Fulco, medical advisor to the Breast Care Center at Northfield Hospital, said Tracie’s case is an example of the integrated care provided at Northfield Hospital. “We have the screening and diagnostic tools. We have the surgical services, and we have medical oncology all here under one roof,” he said. “It is a great convenience for the patient who can stay close to home where she has access to her support system.”
“After my diagnosis, so many people throughout the hospital supported me,” Tracie said. “I felt very comforted. I felt like we were all in it together.” Chemotherapy was next. “I went back and forth with the decision to have chemo, because I thought ‘I’m cancer free’ and chemo is difficult. But on the other hand, I wanted to know I’m doing everything I possibly can for myself and my family,” Tracie said. Over the winter and spring, under the care of Robert Dalton, MD, a medical oncologist from Mayo Clinic who sees patients at Northfield Hospital, Tracie had 16 rounds of chemotherapy at Northfield Hospital’s Cancer Care & Infusion Center. The first four rounds were the worst, she said. They laid her low for a week each time. The last 12 rounds were virtually free of side effects. In fact, after each round, she returned to work the next day. “While going through chemo, I’d work in the morning, go do chemo, and go home at night,” Tracie said. That convenience was enormously valuable, because “I was able to work,” Tracie explained. “I just wanted to get back to my life.” The hardest part of chemo was losing her hair, “because then you look like you have cancer,” she said. “I was so public with my story that I wasn’t afraid to show the people around me what was under the wig. I just didn’t want strangers to think, ‘She has cancer,’ ” Tracie said. “I had cancer. I didn’t have it now.” Tracie completed her regimen in May. She will remain on a preventive oral medicine for several years and remain under the care of Dr. Dalton with periodic appointments. Tracie was also impressed at the concern for her family expressed by physicians and the staff at the Cancer Care & Infusion Center. “The doctors always asked about my husband and family,” she said. “It wasn’t just about me and how I was doing; it was how we were doing as a family.” Throughout her ordeal, Tracie was surrounded by family, friends and co-workers. Discovering that network of support was truly a blessing and an unexpected outcome of her cancer.
“Cancer takes so much from you, but it has been good in that all of these wonderful relationships form,” she said. “There has been a lot of good that has come from this. “When I said ‘I feel like I lost a year of my life,’ my wonderful counselor replied, ‘You were busy saving it,’ ” Tracie said. “After that, I never looked at it the same way again.”