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July 8, 2021
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July 9, 2021

#BeingTracy – Birthday thoughts & stages of grief

How it began vs how it's going

By Tracy Hutchinson Wallace

So, this month (July 2021) I celebrate my birthday. Not a unique or significant number. Middle-aged. Old enough to be a grandmother (which I am not), young enough for people to be as much as 15 years wrong about my actual age. Because my birthday is in July, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions; I make birthday resolutions. Most times. Last year, I didn’t, because of Covid. I figured that everything else in life had been disrupted and shown to be dysfunctional, so why bother? And given what was in store for me in the last year of my life, it was a reasonable decision.

The last year of my life.

Sounds overly dramatic. But it may not be. Seriously. I have Stage 4 Cancer; which means cancer has spread from my breast to my spine and liver. And statistically (US Statistics obviously, I can’t find anything applicable here), that means anytime between October ’21 through October 2022, adieu, sayonara, Elvis has left the building. Oh, yes, while I have your attention – if you are NOT breastfeeding and some doctor says you may have mastitis, PLEASE be sensible and actively investigate the possibility of cancer. Trust me on this.

I am in several minds about how I feel about dying. I have thought for a long time that I am living on borrowed time since I never ever imagined life after 30. Perhaps that is why people have difficulty guessing my age because I often don’t act like someone over thirty. I still skip and jump for joy when I am happy; I still throw tantrums when I am angry; I still cry easily for just about any reason, and often for no reason at all. By the time I was diagnosed (not Covid-19 … yay me!), I’d spent three months in pain and progressive loss of mobility, so I simply wanted ANSWERS. So, when I got them (yes, it’s advanced cancer … oho!) there was no shock and denial. Instead, I started planning – what to do, who to tell, when to act on the information, where to go for treatment, how to deal with the fallout. There was no depression either. Funnily enough, the severe depression from two years ago seemed to vanish overnight. Lucky me…

Frankly, the process of dying is far lengthier, more drawn-out and … annoyingly undignified than I thought it would be – nothing like Stepmom, my go-to movie on the subject. As a result, the pain and guilt are also lasting longer than Hollywood would have you believe. Of course, the boys, 13 and seven, are endeavouring their utmost best, but there are only so many things that little ones should have to cope with, and their Maman’s chemotherapy side effects shouldn’t be … any of them.

Anger? Yes, a good deal. The diagnosis and treatment upended my life. I had to leave a position that I generally loved. I am always tired and in ongoing pain. I can no longer throw myself into my work with Autism Spirit, Bethesda, and CODO (the Consortium of Disability Organisations). I have a long list of things that I wanted to help fix in the next decade, but I am fast running out of time. And I have to use my energy strategically, which means that making memories with the kids is pretty much my number one priority. So there’s anger, resentment, hurt, bitterness and wrath aplenty. And sometimes, I have to sit quietly with the various manifestations of my anger until they tell me their real names. Then, I can work through it.

And yet, at this point, I am more calm and relaxed than anything else. And I am putting the pieces of my life back together and pressing onwards. It’s not quite acceptance or hope, but there is definitely an odd sense of joy and adventure in figuring out this new way of #BeingTracy, incorporating the parts of me that are fundamentally ME and happily pruning the bits that don’t fit anymore or belong more to other people influencing my life. If you’re looking for wisdom from this side of a terminal illness, it’s precisely that. Be you, whatever happens. For me, that means doing one thing, always – I will be who I needed when I was younger. That means saying what needs to be said, doing what needs to be done and making good, necessary trouble wherever I can. As a birthday resolution, it’s acceptable, not so? It might be inconvenient, unpalatable, vexatious, unruly, but I hope that my thoughts will also help shift systems, change minds and hearts, and be provocative and thoughtful. This introduction to me and my cancer is the beginning; I hope you stick around for the end. Hopefully, that will be several Julys from now…


Our Catholic News Team extends condolences to the family and friends of Tracy Hutchinson Wallace who transitioned from this life on July 31st, 2022. Tracy has contributed to our Women’s Blog #ForWomen and was shown a lot of support and love by our readers. May eternal rest be granted onto her and may she Rest In Peace.