By Prue Salasky, email@example.com | 757-247-4784
October 28, 2012
From the tips of her pink-rimmed black Spine running shoes to the hair piled on top of her head, Tracey Dickson-Scott radiates health and a zest for life.
Five years ago the 45-year-old flight attendant, who divides her time between residences in San Antonio, Texas, and her home town Hampton, was diagnosed with HER2 positive, an aggressive form of breast cancer. During chemotherapy treatments, before opting for a bilateral mastectomy, she ballooned to 158 pounds. Now a svelte, muscular 115 pounds, the 5 foot 3 inch dynamo was selected by Under Armour as one of three representatives nationally for its 2012 Power in Pink promotion.
For a year, Dickson-Scott will represent the athletic wear company at store openings and running events. She has already been to Baltimore for a fashion shoot for the winter and spring lines. She has participated in a relay half-marathon and given her first big speech at company headquarters.
The perks of the position, which she won from hundreds of contestants across the country, include an unlimited Under Armour wardrobe. "I could open my own store," she said cheerfully, indicating her shoes, her sports bra, work-out top and pants. The unpaid position also came with a $5,000 donation to her favorite charity. She selected Beyond Boobs! Inc., an advocacy and support group for young breast cancer survivors in Williamsburg that helped her after her diagnosis. She is now a board member. "She's been supported, but she's reached back to others. When she gets her teeth into it, she's very driven," said the group's co-founder Mary Beth Gibson.
Best of all, though, being an Under Armour rep gives her a voice, Dickson-Scott said. "It lets me tell women that they can go through something bad like this and come out stronger and better, physically, emotionally and spiritually."
Finding her voice
In 2008, three weeks into her chemotherapy treatment, Dickson-Scott didn't think she was going to make it. Depressed and in pain, she lay around on her mother's couch, ate whatever she wanted and felt progressively worse as she gained weight. She credits her mother, Les Willis, with forcing her out of the doldrums. "She told me I was an athlete and I needed to give my body what it was used to," said Dickson-Scott, a high school cheerleader and certified fitness trainer. She started by walking on a treadmill at home.
After her initial push, Willis kept quiet. "One day I heard her and she was running. The next day she was running faster," she said. "Sometimes I'd be trying to sleep and it would sound like a train she was going so fast. Then she started running outside. Then she started racing and doing the things she used to do." As Dickson-Scott gained strength, the pain lessened.
"I knew the Lord wouldn't give us anything we couldn't handle," said Willis, who has a profound belief in the power of prayer. She kept telling her daughter that she'd been chosen and that God had work for her to do. "From then on she just strived. She is just an amazing person. I'm amazed at the things she's done for others who have cancer, especially the young ones with children," said Willis. "When Tracey finds out a person is dying, it's like a job for her to be by their side; she goes to their bed and family every day." She has also arranged for a body and family members to be flown to New York for a funeral. "She has done things like that. And she doesn't let go. She keeps in touch with the families with calls and emails. I can't say enough about her. She's just a wonderful girl. You can see the love in her face."
Facing the diagnosis
In turn Dickson-Scott credits "her dream team" — her husband, Lorne, her parents, and Gibson — for helping her get through the low points. "It was like running full tilt into a brick wall when I got the diagnosis," she said. Then 40, she dismissed cancer as "a white woman's disease," even though her paternal grandmother had had a mastectomy. "I was ignorant," she said. Gibson says that's a common misconception in the African-American community, but that the incidence is higher for black women before the age of 40, though the numbers flip after that.
After feeling something unusual in a lymph node, she went to her primary care doctor; as a precaution, he told her to get a mammogram. She didn't follow through and it was a few weeks later, while scratching the top of her right breast she found the unmistakable hard lump. "I knew it was going to be cancer," she said of the 2.9 centimeter lump. "It was rock hard, like someone had super-glued a rock in the tissue." Still, she delayed going to the doctor for a few more weeks.
Once diagnosed, everything moved rapidly, and her support system kicked in. Her father, Willie Dickson, acted as her cheerleader, calling her every day. She and Lorne married after dating for years. "We grew up together. We knew each other in junior high. Of course she was devastated, we both were," he said. "It has pulled us closer. I tried to stay positive." And her mother got her moving again.
Once she resumed exercising, she never looked back. Despite a work schedule that has her constantly in different cities and staying in hotels, she works out a minimum of four days a week. Initially afraid that she'd look like Hulk Hogan, she has gradually refined her routine to emphasize weight-lifting over cardio. "If you build muscle, you can build your body into a fat-blasting machine," she said, so instead of running for an hour, she now lifts for 30 minutes and keeps the cardio to 20 minutes. "I mean like blood-curdling, sweat-popping, on the verge of not being able to catch your breath 20 minutes," she said, grinning. "I'm a big Crossfit girl."
She also does the Insanity program sometimes, follows the workouts in Oxygen magazine, "they're not just frilly, girlie workouts," and is a devotee of fitness guru William "Bill" Phillips and "Body for Life." She has been featured in Shape magazine and Women's Health magazines. "It hasn't slowed her down. She shows that you can still look and feel like a woman," said her husband, Lorne.
Dickson-Scott has also adopted a primarily vegetarian diet. She doesn't eat meat and has largely cut out alcohol, sugar and dairy, except for the occasional latte. She still eats fish, eggs, lots of nuts, beans, veggies, whole grains and "Mediterranean stuff," such as olives and hummus. "I'm not a big fruit eater. I guzzle unsweetened green tea from Starbucks," she said, emphasizing the "unsweetened." Her mom said, simply, "She's very cautious about what she puts in her body."
Her life now
In 2009, Dickson-Scott was a calendar girl for Beyond Boobs! She also applied for the Under Armour Power in Pink campaign — but wasn't selected. She applied again this year. "I've done more, I've experienced more," she said. "They were looking for bad-ass this time. I think they saw a fighting spirit in me. I'm in a different, better place."
She's back at work, traveling, cajoling other breast cancer survivors on Facebook daily, doing outreach in the community, helping Beyond Boobs! members, working out, spending time with family, and spreading the word about the importance of early detection with breast cancer. "It's like a sisterhood between her and the other women. She dedicates so much time and effort to them," Lorne said.
For Dickson-Scott, breast cancer has been a blessing and a curse. "It has given me a whole new lease on life. When you're staring at your mortality, you come out a different person. Now I'm acting and modeling," she said. "When you know the depth of your strength, it's empowerment."
She recalls her doctor telling her she would have to jump through hoops to get better. "I never knew I could jump this high," she marveled. It doesn't surprise her loved ones. "In my mind she can do anything," said Lorne.
Beyond Boobs! Inc., 1311 Jamestown Road, Suite 202, Williamsburg; 757-645-2649; http://www.beyondboobs.org. An advocacy and support group for pre-menopausal breast cancer survivors. To see Tracey's video, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etiHlROhgT0&sns=em .
Who gets breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the most common cause of cancer deaths in Hispanic women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2008, more than 210,000 U.S. women were diagnosed, and 40,589 died.
In Virginia, breast cancer accounts for one third of all cancers. African American women are often diagnosed later, according to the American Cancer Society, especially for breast and cervical cancers. The overall incidence rate for breast cancer is 6 percent lower in blacks than whites, but it is higher in black women under 45. Between 2003 and 2007, the mortality rate was 39 percent higher in black women, which the ACS attributes to later detection and different tumor characteristics.
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