Giving

“Breathe in strength, exhale fear and sadness.” How Cancer Brought a New Perspective

“It’s scary when you hear the word ‘cancer,’ but coming to the Abramson Cancer Center was a life-saver. I felt confident the day I walked in. I could have been treated somewhere closer to home, but we looked at it as an investment in my life.”—Tracey Fenstermacher, sarcoma survivor

Tracey Fenstermacher didn’t think life could get any better. It was June 2015, and she celebrated her 40th birthday in good health with a wonderful husband, two loving sons, and a thriving automotive business. That August, her life changed completely when on a family trip to the Little League World Series a lump appeared on her right thigh. The lump wasn’t painful, but it caused concern and friends urged her to go to an emergency room. The local ER sent her to a surgical oncologist for a biopsy.

The biopsy revealed synovial sarcoma, a disease Tracey had never heard of. She and her husband then had to face what she considers to be the hardest part of her journey—telling their sons, who were nine and eleven at the time, that their mom had cancer. “We sat there for hours hugging and crying. We didn’t have a plan yet,” Tracey shared.

Tracey stands at the Abramson Cancer Center with her husband and two boys next to the bell she just rang to signify the end of her cancer treatment
Tracey with her family, ringing the bell at her last treatment

The Abramson Cancer Center

Tracey’s friend and cancer survivor recommended she go to the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) for her treatment. Tracey and her family live in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, so the two-and-a-half-hour commute to the hospital was daunting. “In my mind I was thinking, what about our kids, our business?”

Her friend was persistent about his belief in the level of care at the Abramson Cancer Center, and convinced Tracey to go for a second opinion. Drs. Paul Foley, Lee Hartner, William Levin, and Kristy Weber laid out a plan for her that included 18 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by radiation and surgery. “When I met with Dr. Weber—wow! I went in with six pages of questions, and she answered all of my questions before I even had to ask one,” Tracey said. “I came to Penn for a second opinion, and left Penn saying, ‘So when can we get started?’”

Tracey and her husband decided to travel to Philadelphia for her treatments, staying at the hospital for five days every three weeks during chemo. They were fortunate to have family in Pottsville who could stay with their children. “We could have gone somewhere closer to home but thought, in a year am I going to be here? That’s how we looked at it—as an investment in my life,” shared Tracey. “Words can’t even express the appreciation my family and I have for my care team. I call them the ‘dream team.’”

During chemotherapy Tracey was happy to meet another new confidant—a fellow patient, Arianne, who she now considers one of her best friends. “When first diagnosed, you don’t know where to turn. It was great talking to someone like Arianne who was steps ahead of me in defeating cancer. Arianne came to chemo carrying a 20-pound kettlebell; I thought I was doing well with my three pound weights! She helped encourage me.”

Steps to Cure Sarcoma

Before her surgery in April 2016, Tracey learned about the community event Steps to Cure Sarcoma that was scheduled for two months after the procedure. Tracey was determined to participate. Chemo and radiation shrunk her sarcoma more than 50%, and surgery was successful in removing the remainder of her mass. That June, Tracey walked the one-mile route at the event with family and friends—including her two sons who were grateful to have their mom by their side. At this year’s 3rd Annual Steps to Cure Sarcoma, she went even further and completed the 5K.

Tracey outside with her friends Arianna and Kristy wearing sarcoma awareness t-shirts at a race for awareness for sarcoma
Tracey with Dr. Weber and Arianne Missimer at the 3rd Annual Steps to Cure Sarcoma

Tracey’s Steps to Cure Sarcoma team wore shirts that said “No one fights alone”—a great testament to how she feels about her cancer journey. “We want to give back and help people with these rare cancers,” she said. “I want to speak to patients and help them like my care team, friends, colleagues, and family helped me.”

With Penn being such a big hospital, Tracey was worried that she would be treated as a number—but instead she and her husband have made contacts and relationships that have changed her forever.

“Before we had a treatment plan a saying came over me, ‘Breathe in strength, exhale fear and sadness.’ No one ever wants to hear the word cancer, but I truly believe that there’s always a positive that comes from a negative. Coming to the Abramson Cancer Center and meeting the amazing doctors, nurses, and a new best friend in Arianne really put life into perspective—I’ve got many positives.”

Contact Karleigh Rose Pettit at (215) 898-9931 or karleigh@upenn.edu.

About this Blog

The Penn Medicine Giving blog highlights and promotes philanthropic contributions to Penn Medicine and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Date Archives

GO
Share This Page: