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In the Pink
Written by Donna Boen, editor, Miamian alumni magazine
In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the following feature profiles cancer survivor Tracie Weidner Metzger '92 and her Pink Ribbon Girls support group. HLN's "Breakthrough Women" series on "Morning Express with Robin Meade" is featuring Metzger and her foundation later this month.
Nobody thought Tracie Weidner Metzger '92 had breast cancer. Not her OB-GYN, not her surgeon, not her husband, Ray '92 MS '94. Not even Tracie.
Still, after Metzger found a lump, she wanted it out, mostly because it made her underwire bra uncomfortable. Her OB-GYN suggested the young mother of two toddlers wait six months. After all, she’d been nursing her baby girl up until the week before she discovered the lump, and it might simply be a clogged milk duct.
Metzger didn’t want to wait. At most, she figured it was a benign, fatty tumor, similar to one she’d had removed six years earlier.
Fighting against malignancy
“I had surgery about three weeks later. I went by myself since Ray was in his residency at the time, and he’d just gotten paged. It was going to be no big deal.” But when she woke up in recovery, she heard “malignant.”
“My little baby’s face came into my brain, and I thought, how in the hell do I have breast cancer? I’m 30 years old. This doesn’t happen to people my age.”
Fortunately, if anything about cancer could be considered fortunate, she caught it early and signed on for the most aggressive treatment. That meant six months of intense chemotherapy and radiation. Halfway through chemo, she found another lump. Although it turned out to be benign, she skipped the radiation and instead opted for a double mastectomy.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made because I don’t live with regret, I don’t live with fear,” said Metzger, who had a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
Creating a support network
“Knowledge is power for me,” said Metzger, the oldest of four, all of them Miami graduates. “I just remember thinking, I’ve got to talk to somebody who’s been through this.” But, she had trouble finding anyone she could relate to. The first woman she was referred to was 81 years old. The second lived in New York. She needed to meet face to face with others who were also trying to cope with energy-draining chemotherapy sessions while handling 2 a.m. feedings and potty training.
She finally found two like herself in her hometown of Cincinnati, one of whom was six months pregnant when diagnosed. They started getting together for coffee. Sometimes they’d talk about their cancer, sometimes they wouldn’t. Other times they’d just call each other and cry or laugh. Grateful for this moral support, they started wondering how they could help others.
That’s how Pink Ribbon Girls started in September 2001. Tapping into her marketing skills learned at Miami, Metzger put together a press release announcing a new support group for young moms with breast cancer and sent it out in time for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. All the Cincinnati media picked up their story.
“People were calling in to the TV stations and newspaper saying, ‘How can I get ahold of these women? My sister was diagnosed. I was diagnosed.’ Our first meeting eight women were at the table. The next month there were 15, and then 30, and then 50. It took off.”
Sharing Pink Ribbon Girls’ passion
“If your girlfriend loses her job because she has breast cancer, I can’t write a check to her to pay her mortgage, but what I can do is help her with meals or baby-sitting. I can clean her house. I can get her to and from her treatment. Those are the things that I provide because those are the things that when I was 30 I would have killed for. My parents jumped right in to help me with meals and taking care of my kids. But not everybody has that. We felt like this was our calling.”
Now 12 years since her diagnosis, Metzger feels fortunate to still be alive and blessed to have had two more babies. A Miami Merger, she and Ray met junior year when both worked for rec sports. These days Ray is a doctor with TriHealth in Cincinnati, where they raise their kids – Trey, 16, Grace, 13, Hope, 10, and Jack, almost 9.
“What I do is very positive, but it’s also emotionally draining at times. Women are still dying from breast cancer. There’s this adorable young girl that we’ve been serving for several years. Found a lump when she got home from her honeymoon. She was 27. It came back two years later, and now she’s not long for this world. I’ve come to know and love this girl. I feel like it’s my job to be as passionate as I am about what I do to fight for these girls who can’t fight anymore and to say, ‘Listen, you know what? We can’t prevent breast cancer right now, but we sure as hell can get through it.’ ”