His words took her breath away. Yet weeks earlier she’d had a gut feeling that something was wrong. That’s when she had felt that first lump in her left breast, but with none of the usual risk factors she hadn’t been too concerned. After all, she was only 41 years old with no family history of cancer. She never drank or smoked, she exercised regularly, ate a healthy diet, and took good care of herself.
“Traci, I am not as concerned about the lump in your breast as I am about the mass here under your arm.” It was three fingers wide. “Haven’t you felt pain around this area?”
Traci Runge explained to Dr. Thomas Schmidt of the Breast Care Center of Indiana, that she felt like she was in the best condition of her life. She was just three days from her first triathlon and had been training vigorously for months. She was a busy mother of three daughters ages 6, 12, and 16 and was involved in all their activities. She was up at 4:30 every morning to work out, get the kids off to school, work part time at the elementary school, navigate the girls’ afternoon activities, prepare dinner, assist with homework, and find time with her husband. Yes, she did feel a little tired sometimes, but who wouldn’t?
Traci had felt that lump in her breast in mid-March during a regular self-examination but decided to wait until her next menstrual cycle to see if it went away. It didn’t. In fact the day before her appointment on Monday, April 12, she noticed it had grown and was now noticeably protruding. A mammogram, indeed, indicated there were several tumors in her left breast. As she stared at the film, all she could see was the long list of dozens of carcinoma and their sizes: ‘1.0, 2.5, 2.3, 1.5, and all’, as Dr. Schmidt pointed out, ‘highly suspicious for breast cancer.’ As the doctor tried to explain the results, all she could hear was that one word pounding over and over again in her head: cancer, cancer, cancer. She wanted to run out of the office and keep running. She felt a gnawing in the pit of her stomach. She felt like she was going to vomit.
And Traci felt a tremor in her world.
That night as she lay in bed, her safe and secure world turning upside down, she waited for her husband’s breathing to become deep and regular. She slipped out of bed and tiptoed to each of her daughter’s bedrooms and as they slept, she whispered to each how much she loved them and she prayed over them. When she got to little Gracie’s room, she climbed into bed with the sleeping six-year-old and held her body close for a long time. She thought, “I know I have something deadly in me. I just know it.” Then her prayer became a plea, “Please Lord, give me some time be a mom to these girls you gave me.” She made her way downstairs where she and God could be alone together. There in the stillness of night, they had a long talk and a good cry. Traci didn’t sleep at all that night.
At 4:30 am, Tuesday, April 13, Traci did what she had always done. She worked out, made breakfast, and got the girls off to school just like any other day. She polished her nails, got all dressed up in full make-up and heels, and drove to work. Then looking her best, she went off to her biopsy appointment.
Time seemed to stand still for the next few days as she waited for the biopsy results. When the phone rang the evening of April 15 at 9:45 pm, she knew it couldn’t be good. It was Dr. Schmidt. “The biopsy reveals that you are triple positive for invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer, HER2/neu, estrogen and progesterone induced. Traci, this is very aggressive.”
And Traci could feel the earth shake.
Another sleepless night. Another long talk with God until dawn’s first light.
The next morning, Friday, April 16, she called her friend, RegGina Mattis, to let her know she couldn’t do Sunday’s triathlon. Traci continued, “But would you like to walk in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure with me tomorrow?” That was the beginning of a mighty transformation for Traci.
After they registered for the Race, RegGina spoke with Executive Director, Dana Curish, and explained that Traci had just been diagnosed the night before. Dana invited Traci to join her at the front of the walk along with Indianapolis Colts’ Jeff Saturday and his wife, Karen. Traci declined, “I’m not a survivor like all these women. I’m just a two-day fighter.”
That evening Traci and her husband, Dan, told Hannah and Allie (16 and 12) the news, but it wasn’t like the Hallmark script she had hoped for. Dan was running late coming home from work and the girls had places to go, so they rushed through it without time for much discussion or processing. Dan left for another appointment and it actually turned out to be a Friday night just like many others.
So there she was, alone again, in her big empty house. “God, it’s just you and me here tonight. What is my purpose in all this? My girls don’t deserve this. What good could possibly be achieved by wreaking this kind of havoc on my body and in my family? Whatever it is Lord, please give me the strength to carry through.” And that became Traci’s daily prayer.
Because of the aggressive nature of the cancer, her bio-markers, and the dozens of tumors growing in Traci’s left breast, it was determined that her treatment would be chemo, surgery, and then radiation. The first chemo treatment was scheduled for Thursday, April 29.
Dan and Hannah went with Traci to her first chemo treatment. A complete stranger, Shannon Minnaar, approached Hannah and struck up a conversation in the chemo room. She was with her twin sister, Shelly Ruch, who was also receiving chemo that day. Shannon’s words were a great comfort to the frightened 16-year-old. They talked about what to expect, the best way to tell friends, and how they would find a way to get through this. Traci came home and posted this on her Facebook page, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
In the weeks to follow, Traci was blindsided by the pain and the despair and the fatigue and the sores and the trembles that accompanied the chemo treatments. But before each appointment, in true Traci fashion, she would get all dressed up, put on makeup the best she could, and enter that chemo room with a smile on her face. All the patients knew her name and she knew each of theirs. She was a bright ray of sunshine to those patients, nurses, and all who knew her. For example, when Traci began losing her hair, she gathered her close friends and daughters around her. They took turns cutting her soft brown locks, shaved her skull, and laughed and cried the afternoon away.
Every other Thursday, her chemo was an especially strong dose of Adriamycin. The nurses had a name for it – The Red Devil. It would make her completely incapacitated on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. She was overcome with vomiting, diarrhea, mouth and throat sores, and much more too unpleasant to go into here. For the next three days she would be flat on her back, but on the third day she would somehow rise again.
One day Traci overheard a nurse administering The Red Devil to another patient. Traci spoke up, “This stuff is supposed to make us better, right? And you call it The Red Devil? I don’t like the idea of having The Red Devil coursing though my blood. Instead I think we should call it The Blood of Christ. After all, it only keeps me down for three days and on the third day I somehow rise again. If Christ could endure the Cross and the pain of hell and rise again on the third day for His children, then I must endure this treatment and rise again for my children. Yes, let’s call it The Blood of Christ from now on.” And they did.
And Traci added one more ray of sunshine to that chemo room.
She endured multiple rounds of chemo last summer and it worked. She had a mastectomy on September 14, 2010, the day after her 42nd birthday. Her radiation ended in December. Her right breast was removed May and she finished chemo July 12, 2011. Smiling ear to ear and with her family all around her in her doctor’s office she rang the freedom bell proclaiming she was free from treatment. She participated in her first triathlon in March, exactly one year after her diagnosis.
Today Traci is cancer free. That is nothing short of a miracle.
In 15 agonizing but life-changing months Traci has come to understand miracles. The miracle of doctors, medicine, and cancer treatments. The miracle of people coming around a family in need with meals, cards, transportation, house cleaning, and emotional support. The miracle of deep conversation with teenage daughters as they helped to change oozing bandages. The miracle of God’s comfort in the middle of the night. The miracle of a woman growing in strength and delightful audacity to share her faith. The miracle of being with her girls for Young Authors projects, Camp Tecumseh field trips, the 8th grade dance, and cheerleading tryouts. And the miracle of hope — upcoming proms, graduations, college visits, weddings, and grandchildren.
You are probably thinking what a courageous woman this Traci Runge is, facing adversity with such faith, insight, and dignity. You may know someone like her who was diagnosed with cancer and also fought it with uncommon grace and tenacity. So what makes Traci’s story different?
Here is where Traci’s story stands out from all the others.
Three years earlier in 2007, Traci Runge was a healthy 38-year-old woman coaching her daughter’s cheerleading squad. The mother of one of her students was diagnosed with breast cancer. Many families rallied around them bringing meals and sending cards. Her name was Carrie Fogleman and she ultimately lost her battle with cancer. It tugged on Traci’s heartstrings to see this wife and mother so close to her own age also with three daughters suffer and die from this disease. She began to read everything she could find about breast cancer. She learned about risk factors, heredity, diet, exercise, early detection, annual mammograms, and the importance of regular self breast examination. When she learned about the research being done to find a cure, she prayed that a cure would be found before her own daughters were grown.
One day she stumbled upon an article that took her by surprise. It said that the Susan G. Koman Breast Tissue Bank was collecting healthy breast tissue from volunteers because they believed their research was the link to the cure. She made the decision to step up and donate her own breast tissue in honor of her friend, Carrie Fogleman. Indianapolis is the home of the only breast tissue bank in the world. They take samples only five times annually. Traci showed up late in the afternoon on the last day, and was nearly turned away. Before she donated, she was interviewed on video tape about her life style, family history, and why she had decided to donate her tissue.
Fast forward three years to spring of 2010. After the Race for the Cure, Traci felt compelled to make a call to the Breast Tissue Bank. She left a message explaining that she had donated previously in 2007, that she had just been diagnosed the week before, and that she wanted to donate tissue again before her treatments began.
So on April 25, 2010, the Sunday before her first chemo treatment, Traci Runge went back to donate breast tissue for a second time. John Hammarley, National Director of Susan G. Koman, flew in from Texas to interview some of the donors. During Traci’s interview he asked if she could remember what she had said at her first tissue donation in 2007. She didn’t remember exactly. John paused and looked directly into her eyes. “Traci, when asked on tape why you were donating your healthy breast tissue, you said, ‘You never know, it could be me.’”
Dr. Susan Clare was the researcher with Traci during that second biopsy. She was as giddy as a scientist could be when she turned to Traci and said: “Do you have any idea what you have done here today? You are the first person in the world to donate both healthy and cancerous tissue for research. Traci, you just may be the key to the cure!”
And Traci was witness to one more miracle. The miracle of purpose. It occurred to her that God was answering her plea: “Lord, what is my purpose in this?!” ~~~
Through the extraordinary insight and vision of Allison Melangton, President and CEO of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee, who believes Indy’s 2012 Super Bowl is an opportunity for our community beyond game day, a partnership has been formed between the Host Committee and the Tissue Bank to make a cure for breast cancer happen.
[Here is their press release.] The 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee is proud to partner with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at IU Simon Cancer Center (“Komen Tissue Bank”) to develop Indy’s Super Cure. Indy’s Super Cure initiative capitalizes on Indianapolis’ robust health and life sciences resources to propel the search for a cure. Continuing to make Super Bowl XLVI More Than a Game, Indy’s Super Cure invites you to assist in this fight and make a difference.
Indianapolis Can Make a Difference: Indianapolis is home to the world’s only known tissue bank (Komen Tissue Bank) that collects healthy breast tissue for cancer study and research. Local Resident, Traci Runge, has provided the Komen Tissue Bank with the first specimens of healthy tissue in 2007 and then cancerous tissue in 2010 – this unique collection could be instrumental for researchers in finding the cure for breast cancer. Indianapolis is the home of leading edge pharmaceutical, biotech and healthcare initiatives as well as renowned physicians in cancer research. Indianapolis can add to the NFL and American Cancer Society’s “A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening for Saving Lives” initiative that encourages mammogram testing and is promoted through NFL players wearing “pink gear” during October (Breast Cancer Awareness month).
Indy’s Super Cure Goals are to raise awareness about the Komen Tissue Bank Increase the diversity of breast tissue donations and fundraise for the Komen Tissue Bank to advance breast cancer research.
How you can be a part of Indy’s Super Cure: Contribute financially to the Komen Tissue Bank. Donate breast tissue at the Komen Tissue Bank next time the host a donation drive. Volunteer at the Komen Tissue Bank.
Indy’s Super Cure Events in 2012 helped to raise public awareness.
Leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, Indy’s Super Cure hosted a major fundraising dinner on November 18, 2011 with nationally recognized breast cancer advocates. Several tissue donation events were also organized including during the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
In addition to the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and the Komen Tissue Bank, other representatives partnering on Indy’s Super Cure include: Cancer Support Community, Catherine Peachey Fund, Inc., Community Health Network, Indianapolis Chapter of National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), Indianapolis Colts, IU Health and IU School of Medicine, National Football League, St. Vincent Health, Susan G. Komen for the Cure® (Central Indiana Affiliate) and the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana.
Breast Cancer Facts:
Every 13 minutes a woman’s life is taken from this disease
1 in 8 women will get breast cancer
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women between the ages of 15 and 54
To learn more, visit the Komen Tissue Bank Website at https://komentissuebank.iu.edu