May 23, 2023

What I’ve Learned – “Only your voice can get your point across”

Although there are millions of people currently facing cancer, it can be a lonely experience. Not only is each cancer case different, but each patient's life beyond the waiting room is filled with unique strengths, challenges, goals, and relationships. In this series, we celebrate the people who are our patients and share what they've learned while charting their own path.

Following a positive Cologuard® result in August 2021, Tracy learned she had stage 1 colon cancer and that she would need surgery. As a survivor and Cologuard® Patient Ambassador, Tracy now shares her experience in the hope of inspiring others to get screened.

How did you know you needed to get screened, and how did you feel about it?

I knew that a rite of passage waiting for me when I turned 50 would be a colonoscopy. I was at my yearly physical, bracing myself for “the talk”.  I flat-out said, “No, thank you” to my PCP.  I had no family history and that's when he determined I was eligible for and suggested Cologuard.

What happened when you received your screening result? How did you feel at that time?

I received an email from my doctor notifying me of my positive result. It was like life as I knew it just stopped. So many questions kept running through my head. How will my boys handle the news? How will my husband cope?  How do I tell my mom that her only child might have cancer? After a follow-up colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with stage 1 colon cancer. I ended up having a sigmoid colectomy, which removed part of my colon. My lymph node biopsy results were negative, which was good news. But my surgeon told my husband if I had waited another 6 months, my outcome would have been different. Those words still haunt me.

What did life look like for you at that time?

I was working, as I still do, as a nurse in an assisted living facility in Columbus, Ohio.  My husband and I were busy with our two high school boys and their sports schedules.  You could find us at a baseball field with our oldest or a bowling alley with our youngest.

Did you share your diagnosis with those around you?

Typically, I tend to keep things private when it comes to a situation that I find complicated, so as not to worry others and so I can deal with it in my own way. But in this case, I did tell friends and family. It’s a scary time and I did not want to feel alone. The support I received helped with that. On the other hand, though, telling those around me also made it very real. It was no longer “out of sight, out of mind.”

Was there a time you advocated for yourself during treatment?

I'm a problem solver and have always turned to the internet to delve deeper and get answers. It came naturally to me to do a lot of researching on my own. It not only helped me feel on top of everything I was going through, but also helped me advocate for myself. When I experienced issues after my sigmoid colectomy, I saved so many web pages to my phone pertaining to possible explanations and was able to bring those ideas to my care team to discuss them together. One of the complications I experienced was anemia. I pushed to get a referral for further treatment and received two iron infusions.

Building your healthcare team is an important step with a cancer diagnosis. What's one tip you would give someone?

Go with your gut and do not give up.  Only your voice can get your point across. Because of the complications I experienced after my surgery, finding a healthcare team that listened was a game changer. My surgeon really did listen to my ideas for why I was having issues post-colectomy. It took four colonoscopies in eight months to diagnose the issue - an anastomotic ulcer. My surgeon and his medical assistant were also always available for any questions I had. He checked in on me at least every other week while I was under his care. His openness with me made me see him in a different light, as a person rather than just a surgeon.

Looking back, what message would you say to yourself when you were diagnosed or going through treatment?

I would tell myself to be thankful for each new day and to talk about my feelings. It’s ok to have down days. Hearing “you have cancer” is a life changer. Others aren’t going to understand what you’re going through, but they have good intentions.

How do you relate to your experience now?

I still do all the things I enjoyed prior to my diagnosis, like going to sporting events, enjoying concerts, and spending time with friends and family. But I take things one day at a time more than I used to. I also try to not sweat the small stuff as much. That’s still very hard for me, but I’m learning. I feel so many different emotions when thinking about my cancer journey, everything from feeling like a warrior, to worrying about a recurrence. I think about how fortunate I am that my cancer was caught early, and about those who weren’t so fortunate.

Why do you share your story?

I share my story because I found it very therapeutic.  If it helps just one person, then I know I did my job. It’s important to talk about cancer screenings because they can help find cancer at its earliest stage.  One stands a better chance of survival when cancer is caught early.

This story reflects one individual’s experience. Not every person will have the same treatment, experience, outcome, or result. Cologuard is prescribed by your health care provider. Talk to your health care provider about available screening options and whether Cologuard may be right for you. There are potential risks associated with the Cologuard test and it may not be appropriate for all patients. For more information about the risks, talk to your health care provider or visit for more information.

If you’ve screened for colon cancer with Cologuard, we invite you to connect with the Screen + Me network. Learn more: