Getting a diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer would stop many people in their tracks.
Tracy Chambers is not one of those people.
Since her diagnosis in 2011, she's been busier than ever: running her own photography business, leading her nine-year-old daughter's Girl Scout troop, being a PTA historian and jumping in as a soccer coach.
"Cancer hasn't stopped me from living," Chambers says. "I've just had to find my new normal."
One day in 2008, Chambers noticed some discharge from her left nipple, along with some pain in her breast. Since she was just a few months away from turning 40, her physician in Long Beach recommended a mammogram.
Following her mammogram, she was called before a second, closer look. After that, she was simply told to resume her normal mammograms.
Assuming everything was fine, she went on with her life and didn't have screenings for several years.
Chambers, now 46, eventually came to UC Irvine Health to be treated by endocrinologist Dr. Bogi Anderson for her type 1 diabetes. Since she liked her experience with Anderson, she decided to come to UC Irvine Health for primary care, as well.
She asked her physician for another mammogram, since nearly three years had passed since her first one. Plus, Chambers had been feeling especially tired lately.
"I was telling everyone I knew 'There's something wrong with me and I don't know what it is.' I was exhausted all the time," she recalls.
After her initial mammogram at UC Irvine Health was completed, she was called back for a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound. When the ultrasound tech began to measure the images on the ultrasound display, Chambers knew something was different.
It was: Chambers was diagnosed with stage IV invasive ductal carcinoma. There were two solid masses: one in her left breast, and one in her armpit lymph node. Cancer was also found in her spine and right shoulder blade.
An enemy to fight
Chambers was scared, but somehow relieved at the same time.
"When I was diagnosed, I kind of felt better. It gave me a known enemy, something to fight against."
The day after her diagnosis, Chambers had an appointment with Dr. Karen Lane from the UC Irvine Health Breast Health Center.
"I love Dr. Lane. Not only is she a skilled surgeon, but she's like a sister figure," says Chambers. "I can speak frankly with her, and she listens with her heart."
During their meeting, Lane called Dr. Leonard Sender, director of oncology services at the UC Irvine Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and a specialist in young adult cancers. He came over right away. That impressed Chambers.
Her confidence in Sender only grew when she realized how deeply involved he is in cancer research.
"Dr. Sender knows what's up and coming. I completely trust that he knows what is best in my treatment."
Chambers says she couldn't have had a better combination of doctors.
"Lane and Sender are totally different, but valuable in their own ways."
Getting rid of the cancer
Chambers' treatment started with a four-month course of chemotherapy. She lost her hair, and her fingernails turned shades of purple and red. They became very tender and painful, so she kept them cut short.
"That was probably the worst part about the chemo for me," Chambers says.
After her course of chemotherapy was complete, she underwent surgery to remove the two masses in her breast and armpit.
The day before surgery, Chambers took her daughter to her first day of kindergarten. "It was important to me that I was able to do that."
Then she came to UC Irvine Medical Center for another mammogram and a presurgical procedure.
Prior to that appointment, Chambers' physicians had ordered copies of her first mammogram performed in Long Beach in 2008. When the tech looked at her original scans, she had alarming news for Chambers.
"She told me 'I can see your cancer right here on the original film.'" Chambers was shocked.
Her surgery was followed by two months of radiation to her breast, spine and shoulder blade, which destroyed the remaining cancer.
All told, she has had about 10 surgeries since her diagnosis.
Chambers says she has never heard the word "remission" in her case, but it's where she considers herself to be right now.
Each month, she comes to UC Irvine Medical Center for a shot of Xgeva®, a drug that helps prevent bone cancer recurrence. She also takes Tamoxifen, which helps prevent breast cancer recurrence.
Mostly, she's reveling in her life slowly returning to "normal."
"Now I have regular people problems. Balancing work, parenting, household chores. It's kind of nice to just have that, not constantly worrying about my mortality. It's refreshing just to have the same old problems like everyone else."
Hear Chambers and 12 other cancer survivors speak about how surviving cancer has transformed their lives: