The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Artist’s cancer journey is spiritual journey, too
By CATHY DYSON
The words on the index cards gave Tracey Clarke comfort when she needed it most.
The Stafford County woman was undergoing radiation treatments last fall to destroy the cancer in her brain. Five times a week for six weeks, she climbed onto a treatment bed, got under cushioned grips that held her in place, and had a netting pulled tightly over her face.
“It was just nerve-wracking,” she said. “You have your head sort of tacked down to a table, and you can’t move.”
In those dark moments when the radiation machine aimed a powerful beam at her head, Tracey found comfort in words she’d written on the cards.
Usually, the night before the treatments, Tracey said the Lord brought a line of Scripture to her mind, and she wrote it down on large index cards that she carried into the radiation room with her.
They were passages from the English Standard Version of the Bible, of Paul’s messages of encouragement in the New Testament or about stories of suffering in the Old Testament.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Romans 8:38
Tracey and her husband, Craig, have relied heavily on Scripture, and their faith, as they’ve dealt with her catastrophic illness. Tracey has an aggressive malignant brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM.
The typical life expectancy is 12 to 18 months after diagnosis, and “she’s at month 11,” Craig said.
‘TRIALS OF MANY KINDS’
Now 43, Tracey was in the best physical shape of her life when her world changed in an instant.
It was last July. Craig was out of town on a business trip, and Tracey, an artist known for her mythical paintings, started having strange sensations.
She felt like wind was rushing over her, as if an industrial fan was aimed her way. Then, she had a strange feeling in her left arm, and started experiencing odd smells and sounds. Tracey feared she was having a stroke or aneurysm and went to the emergency room.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”—Isaiah 41:10
The episode began a journey for the Clarkes that continues today and has included an operation to cut her skull open and another in which a “gamma knife” aimed a highly focused beam of radiation into her head. She’s been treated at Mary Washington Hospital and the Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
She’s past the “crisis” point of her diagnosis and doesn’t have any tumors left in her brain. As she enters the marathon stages, she needs ongoing treatments, IV injections and medicines that leave her depressed and forgetful, easily overwhelmed and tired—or any combination of the above.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”—James 1:2–3
‘TRANSPARENT AND OPEN’
The Clarkes posted that verse, along with others in this story, online on a site called CaringBridge. On the blog, Craig gives details of the various procedures Tracey is enduring and what their battle plan is to make sure she “is alive 10 years from now, Lord willing.”
Tracey’s posts tend to be more emotional, such as this entry on Jan. 23:
“Every bodily sensation can send the mind down the long and winding road. For instance, I have a headache today. I had a headache when I had my seizure back in July. See how I could freak out?” she wrote, as if talking to a friend. “I feel extra tired with no reason to be. My white blood count was a bit low last blood work. Is the chemotherapy destroying my blood? Again, there is a choice to be made. I can’t paint, so I feel useless.”
All along, Tracey said she didn’t want to come across like a whiner, but felt God wanted her to chronicle the good times and bad.
“We made the decision really early on to be really transparent and open about how we feel about our faith and our walk with God and what He’s doing through all this,” Tracey said. “There are a lot of ups and downs, and there are times when you can feel like you’re alone.”
By sharing her thoughts, she’s connected with others in the brain-cancer community, including a patient who got the same diagnosis 18 years ago.
Her experience also has helped other reinforce their faith, said Kathleen Lewis, a friend in Spotsylvania County.
“If you believe that the Scriptures are true, that God is who he says he is, you’re putting your beliefs into words,” she said about Tracey’s blogs and behavior. “I think it’s the best way she can remind herself of God’s truth.”
Tracey and Craig have been buoyed by cards and letters of support. A friend embroidered the verse from Isaiah for her, and others organized a fundraiser to help with out-of-pocket expenses, even though the Clarkes are relatively new to the community. They moved to Stafford about 2 years ago from Woodbridge.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” —Jeremiah 29:11–13
‘WHY TRACEY HAS CANCER’
Craig and Tracey are grateful that their feelings for each other, and for God, have gotten stronger through this ordeal. Yet, Tracey is the first to admit that bouts of insomnia and depression have been nothing short of awful.
At times, she cries out in despair, just as in Psalm 42, when the writer asked God, “Why have you forgotten me?” She’s also been reminded that salvation comes from God, as Jonah discovered when he was in the belly of a big fish.
“We feel the same way,” Craig said, adding that it sometimes feels like “Tracey was vomited out of a fish.”
Longtime friend Pam Kuper admires how honest Tracey has been about feeling out of control because she’s always come across as strong and independent.
“Before, I kind of looked at her and thought, ‘She just doesn’t need anybody else,’ but watching her go through this, it’s such a fallacy,” she said. “We all need somebody else.”
Tracey and Craig firmly believe Tracey has brain cancer for a reason, even if they don’t understand all the details. Craig prays over Tracey every night before bed, and they regularly read devotions together. They often find new meaning in passages they’ve read before, or even memorized.
“There are two specific incidents in Jesus’ ministry that are speaking loudly to us; when He heals the man born blind in John 9 and raises Lazarus from the dead in John 11,” Craig wrote on Oct. 30. “In both of these cases, upset and hurting people ask Jesus why this happened. His answer is so that the works and glory of God may be seen.
“And this is why Tracey has glioblastoma—so that the glory of God may be seen—through doctors, Duke Medical Center, the art benefit and love from our friends and family.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425