A Patient's Story: Tracey Turnquist

With chemotherapy and radiation over, the what-ifs answered and the unknowns mostly known Tracey Turnquist has gone from breast cancer patient to survivor, from worry to gratitude.

The then-43-year-old Clarkston resident was so overcome by a feeling of thanks and appreciation for the doctors, nurses and other staffers she crossed paths with during her treatment at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and the Henry Ford Cancer Institute she was compelled to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and let the gratitude flow.

“I want to share my journey so that others can benefit from the expertise that Henry Ford and the Henry Ford Cancer Institute provides,” she says.

In a nearly 900-word letter she shares her thanks with the care team that made an angst-ridden time something to actually laugh about, appointments something to look forward to, even on snowy days, and who, to her surprise, tailored treatment to her work, personal life and even her love of bowling.

Her “amazing, life-changing” medical experience – and love of Detroit Lion’s football – also moved her to show thanks by joining Game On Cancer. The initiative between the Henry Ford Cancer Institute and the Detroit Lions raises funds for research and patient needs such wigs, home health monitoring and transportation to appointments.

For 80 years – or three generations – her family has held Lion’s season tickets. This fall she will host a bowling party as a Game On Cancer team member. It’s fitting, she says, because it meant so much to her when Robert Elkus, M.D., breast cancer surgeon, implanted her chemo port the left side of her chest that would let her keep rolling with her weekly league.

As the year anniversary of her diagnosis approaches, she can hardly believe how her gratitude grows, how she misses caregivers from secretary to surgeon, who “became like another family.”

Pictured below: Tracey Turnquist (patient), Kenneth Levin, M.D. and care team.

Breast cancer tracey turnquist

In the letter Turnquist writes:

My medical team at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital (HFWB) and Henry Ford Cancer Institute are outstanding!! My battle started with the wonderful staff in the Breast Care Center at Henry Ford West Bloomfield. They were caring, compassionate and fast.

They kept my day-to-day life going after I thought it was going to stop.

I have been blessed to share my journey with exceptional, brilliant, caring, compassionate, fun, doctors and staff. I was ready to fight the fight of my life and my medical team was fighting with me.

She spells out the special roles of her care team:

During the scheduling of the biopsy I was blessed to meet Rosemary McCormick, RN, in the Breast Care Center at HFWB. She steered me down a path of exceptional care. I credit her with laying the foundation for my awesome medical team.

Dr. Karen Hunt, Dr. Robert Elkus, Dr. Vrushali Dabak, Dr. Kenneth Levin and their teams were working behind the scenes to design a strategic, personalized care plan that was tailored for me. Each doctor explained their part of the plan thoroughly while ensuring I understood my care plan and everyone’s role in bringing me back to wellness.

Dr. Karen Hunt and her team performed the biopsies to correctly diagnosis the cancer. I am so grateful to her and the team in the Breast Center for catching my cancer early.

Dr. Elkus and his lead nurse, Suzy McConnell, R.N., were outstanding, explaining thoroughly my pathology reports, surgical opinions and getting me scheduled for genetic testing, MRI and surgery.

Dr. Dabak and her team at Columbus Center helped me to complete six rounds of very aggressive chemotherapy…. It was no picnic but wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I breezed through with minimal side effects, never missed a day of work or skipped a beat with my social life...Dr. Dabak helped me continue my passion of attending Detroit Lions game (I’m a season ticket holder) and continue with my bowling leagues. She kept me safe when out in the public and supported me in keeping my life as normal as possible.

The staff in the Infusion Center were always fun, caring and supportive. They made four hours go by fast.

The people at HFWB lab who saw me at the least once a week for blood draws were outstanding. They got me in and out within 15 minutes, every visit.

After chemotherapy, I met Dr. Levin and his team in the Radiation Oncology Department at HFWB. I completed 33 rounds of radiation (5 days a week for 6.5 weeks)...I got to know them on a personal level making this a comfortable experience. On my birthday they gave me a present and celebrated that morning with me. There wasn’t one day that the team didn’t have me laughing! They made getting up at the crack of dawn and navigating the winter weather for my appointments something to look forward to.

Dabak, Henry Ford senior staff physician in the division of hematology/oncology, says a handful of patients put their gratitude into writing – but not a 900-word letter.

“It’s more so they want that detachment from their cancer,” Dr. Dabak says. “They just want to move on and don’t want to think about that phase of their life.”

Not Turnquist, who wraps up her letter with:

I could not have made it to the finish line without the help, support and exceptional care I received from my medical team at Henry Ford West Bloomfield and Henry Ford Cancer Institute.

On March 19, they all rang the bell with me, walking the journey with me to survivorship. I’m thankful to my medical team for helping me to continue to live life as normal as possible, to keep my head held high and a smile on my face every day. Although my journey is not completely over, I know I am in the right hands with my medical team…

Thank you all for being a part of Team Turnquist. I don’t know how my story will end but nowhere in my text will it read, I gave up.

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