Washingtonian Tracy Alston had a six-month cough that just wouldn’t quit, a deep hacking one that “would even make homeless people move away from me.”
Doctors diagnosed asthma. Acid reflux. But Alston just knew it was something else. That “something” turned out to be breast cancer when physicians in 2009 finally found a lump which was initially Stage I, then quickly morphed into Stage II.
Alton felt overwhelmed by the various treatment choices and opinions offered to her and found it a “pretty winding road. I am African American with a triple negative breast cancer, so I knew I couldn’t take (hormone therapy) and I knew my cancer was fast-growing.”
She elected to have a mastectomy and a trans flap reconstruction because oddly enough, insurance wouldn’t cover reconstruction if she’d had just a lumpectomy, and that would mean loss of her nipple.
“I was sort of sold on the mastectomy because they told me they could give me a breast that would look believable,” says Alston.
To quell her fears, Alston’s anesthesiologist at Holy Cross Hospital told her two days prior to her reconstruction “there’s someone I want you to meet.” That someone was breast cancer survivor and activist Denise O’Neill, founder of SOS – Survivors Offering Support, who rotates among various Maryland hospitals and often refers patients to The Red Devils.
“I told (my doctor) I didn’t want to meet anyone. I had cancer, was in danger of losing her home, I’d lost my job, broken up with my boyfriend, I was bald and nauseous,” recalls Alston, who had elected to move back into her childhood home to stay with her mom, who was suffering from early dementia and the ill effects of a relative who had taken financial advantage.
“I’m not married, no kids. The breast they (initially) gave me, I thought, ‘OK, I can deal with this. It’s a good-looking breast,” says Alston.
Another positive? Her cough completely disappeared.