"There is no sense in asking 'why?' or 'why me?' Those questions can't be answered. It's more important to spend energy focusing on the positive."
– Tracie Kirkham
At age 33, Tracie had a master's degree, a promising career, and a world of opportunity at her fingertips. She also had a malignant brain tumor. Tracie says that she hopes her experience, and participation in clinical trials, will help other cancer patients like her be optimistic.
In July 2004,Tracie went to Oregon for a friend's wedding, and when she returned and went back to work, she had a grand-mal seizure. "I got upset at a task that hadn't been completed, and then, all of a sudden, I felt like I was in drunken spins," she says. "I blacked out and suddenly fell to the ground."
Tracie says co-workers called 911, and ambulance workers rushed her to the Emergency Room. She underwent tests, and pathology reports confirmed that she had glioma astrocytoma, a brain tumor that had already progressed to a Grade 3 – a stage of cancer where cells are visibly abnormal and fast growing. Tracie's doctors recommended a craniotomy to surgically remove the tumor, followed by treatments of radiation and chemotherapy.
"Most of my anxiety was caused by the fear of brain surgery," Tracie says. "There's something frightening about the unknown, the uncertainty of the future."
Fortunately, she had both the medical and emotional support she needed from her doctors and caregivers at Intermountain Healthcare.
Only a month after her seizure, Tracie had the craniotomy. She remembers that day vividly. "That morning, I felt confidence from the doctors and nurses," she says. "They were experienced, and they assured me that it was going to be fine. I think the confidence of the doctors and the nurses helped tremendously."
After a successful surgery, Tracie underwent radiation for six weeks followed by chemotherapy. And she chose to participate in a clinical trial to help find medical solutions that may help others who may struggle with her same type of illness.
"I decided to participate in a clinical study where the scenario was surgery, radiation, and then randomization of types of chemotherapy drugs," Tracie says. "Since I had a fear of needles, I got a drug called BCNU, which is the IV form of chemo for brain tumors."
Now Tracie takes a pill form of chemotherapy five days out of each month. She says, "I've maintained my full time job and generally enjoy the activities I used to do prior to the tumor."
Tracie attributes much of her success in treatment to her outlook on life. "Keeping an optimistic attitude and a smile are two valuable pieces of advice I would give to someone going through this experience," she says. "There is no sense in asking 'why?' or 'why me?' Those questions can't be answered. It's more important to spend energy focusing on the positive."
Tracie's last MRI showed no new growth on her tumor.
"I would recommend anyone in my situation to go to Intermountain Healthcare," Tracie says. "I think we were lucky to be so close to healthcare that offers so much for cancer treatment."