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 Tracy Weidner May Be Winning the Battle, Credits 'Overwhelming Community Support'

March 26, 2008 - With the strength and courage big enough to embrace the challenge of defeating a powerful predator, Tracy Weidner appears to be winning her second battle against breast cancer. The 33-year-old mother, backed by the brilliance of doctors and surgeons and the overwhelming kindness and generosity of the people of Knightstown and Carthage, can now focus on finishing her fight against that life-threatening disease.

Weidner’s story came to the forefront in December, when she discussed with The Banner her illness, impending surgery and the financial burden that was preventing her from obtaining the necessary treatment she needed.

Weidner was battling breast cancer for the second time in her life. The disease first appeared in 2002. Surgeons soon performed a lumpectomy - a surgical procedure in which the lump and a lymph node are removed and the breast is saved. Four weeks later she began treatment that included 12 weeks of chemotherapy and then 28 days of radiation.

Five years later, in November of 2007, a routine mammogram revealed the cancer had returned.

This time around she wasn't as prepared financially. Single and raising a 10-year-old son, her insurance had a higher out-of-pocket expense with hefty premiums, her income was significantly lower, and just the thought of missing weeks of work caused the kind of stress doctors warn even healthy people about.

“I try not to think about death,” she said in December. “You don’t think cancer will happen again. It was a kick in the gut the first time, but it was a bigger kick in the gut this time. “I know I’ve been spending more time worrying about the finances than the cancer, but that’s the reality of it all. I’ve beaten cancer once before, but I can’t beat the financial problems too. It’s very scary.”

She had been putting off a fight against a life-threatening disease because of financial reasons, and the outlook was dark. But then her story was made public, and everything changed.

 

When Weidner’s story hit the streets, the people responded.

Employed at the National Road BP, Weidner grew to know a considerable number of people in the Knightstown community. Being a 1992 graduate of Knightstown High School, her roots were already deep in the community.

Her story resonated throughout the area.

People starting showing up at the convenience store in Knightstown the day the paper hit the streets. Cash donations were handed to her by strangers, while many customers she had known for years opened up their checkbooks.

Various fundraisers were held over the coming months. Thousands of dollars here raised and presented to her. The financial burden that had been keeping Weidner from obtaining the life-saving treatment she so desperately needed disappeared thanks to the generosity of so many people from throughout the area.

“I don’t care how much I try to say thank you, there are just no words to thank the people enough,” Weidner said Saturday. “Everyone did so much. Everybody from the people who gave five dollars to the ones who organized fundraisers. There were kids and adults and all kinds of people I know and don’t know who have helped and been a big part of this.

“You always hear about the worst in people because that’s what makes the news,” Weidner said, her voice cracking. “But then you see communities do something like this, so much good by so many …”

People continued to walk through the doors at the National Road BP and hand her cash. There were the five and ten dollar donations, and there were personal checks for significantly higher amounts. Many donations were anonymous.

Fundraisers were organized by friends and strangers alike.

Weidner’s 10-year-old son, Jarrett, plays for the Knightstown traveling basketball team. That organization held a tournament to help raise funds and it was an overwhelming success. The event also touched a special place in Weidner’s heart.

“That tourney did so much more than I ever thought it would,” she said. “The Anderson team was coached by a woman and she apparently really explained to the kids why they were playing in that tourney and what they were raising money for.

“When they went into their huddle instead of putting their hands together and saying ‘Go team’, they would say ‘Go Tracy!’ They did that every time. Those kids all came over and hugged me. It was just an awesome weekend.

“Of course, the kids on Jarrett’s team also understand what has been going on and they have been unbelievable.

“There have been several fundraisers and the awareness of the people was just so unreal,” Weidner said. “The chili supper at the high school, the benefit concert at the Hoosier Gym, the book fair at the elementary school, and the church fundraisers. All of them were just unbelievable.”

The donations have served their purpose. Weidner has paid the out-of-pocket medical expenses and bills that have already arrived. She has been able to keep on top of other living expenses despite being out of work for weeks. She has been receiving the medical treatment she had been postponing because of financial problems.

The communities and Knightstown and Carthage, in short, came to her rescue.

 

Weidner recently returned to work at the National Road BP, although she is able to just put in part-time hours.

On Jan. 9 she had the surgery to remove both breasts, as well as the reconstructive surgery to rebuild them. There was cancer in the right breast, but the left one was clear of the disease. Weidner had that one removed to eliminate the fear of cancer appearing in the future.

She is now undergoing chemotherapy every three weeks, and has already had two treatments. That process, while killing good blood cells, is supposed to destroy all of the remaining cancer cells in her body.

She began losing her hair, as expected, but decided to take control of that process herself.

“The last time I had chemotherapy I was losing my hair and it was constantly clogging my drain,” Weidner said. “This time I was running my fingers through my hair and it just started coming out in chunks. I decided I wasn’t going to just sit there and watch it fall out every day, so I had my brother shave my head.

“I don’t know, maybe you feel like you have some sense of control over the whole thing by just shaving it off and removing it on your own terms.”

The chemotherapy drags her system down and makes her feel tired most of the time. But the treatments this time around are not nearly as bad as those in 2002. “It’s at its worst immediately after the treatment, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was before,” Weidner said. “I’m not as sick as I was and I’m not hugging the toilet every night. The type of therapy I’m having now is not as harsh as the other.

“It’s still hard to keep up the type of schedule I’d like to have, and sometimes that’s hard for Jarrett to understand. But he’s 10. There are some days I think maybe he doesn’t get it when I just don’t have as much energy as I usually have. But most of the time I can deal with what he needs and sometimes it does seem like he understands. It’s definitely an adjustment for both of us.”

Weidner has two more chemotherapy treatments scheduled, and once those are completed she will have one additional cosmetic surgery performed.

 

Four months ago Weidner was at a crossroads in her life. Up against a second battle with breast cancer and without the financial means to fight back, she thought she was nearing the end of the road.

The first time she fought breast cancer she was married and had health insurance through her husband's employer. After the divorce, she maintained the insurance for a while, but when that expired, her choices nearly evaporated because of her health history.

The policy she ended up with was very expensive, and she was facing deductible and out-of-pocket expenses of thousands of dollars per year. Also, the treatment for the new cancer would force her to be off work for weeks.

When word of her situation reached the streets of Knightstown and Carthage, her life took a dramatic turn for the better. Weidner feels like she will forever be indebted to the people who make up those communities.

“I have never thought that Knightstown and Carthage were bad communities or anything like that,” Weidner said. “But what I have been through and what all of those people have done for me is just overwhelming. It just shows how much people care about one another and how special these communities really are.

“I just never thought the reaction would be what it has been. My God, how do you possibly thank the people for what they have done?”

Because of the chemotherapy treatments, Weidner has to struggle on some days to find the strength to work part-time and care for her son. Occasionally, what appear to be everyday mundane tasks often become extreme efforts.

But for now, it appears she might be winning the battle once again.

When she can muster the strength, Weidner is working on “thank you” letters addressed to those who have given so much to help her. The list is long.

“I’m trying to thank everyone I can, but there are so many people who have helped me anonymously and I just have no idea who they are,” Weidner said.

Following the final two chemotherapy treatments and the last of the cosmetic surgery, she will continue with routine check-ups to make sure she stays cancer-free. There is a three-to-five percent chance the breast cancer could return someday.

“But, they are coming up with new stuff all of the time,” she said. “I hope I don’t have to worry about it. I know I’ve lessened my chances of getting this again, and that’s about all I can do right now.”

Her confidence level is high.

“I know I may never get back to normal as far as strength,” Weidner said, “but I hope to get as close as possible. Maybe by mid-to-late summer I’ll start feeling a lot better.

“Right now, I’ve got a lot of thank you notes to write to a lot of wonderful people.”

 

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