A cancer mum says she doesn’t resent her husband for leaving her while she was going through chemotherapy – instead insisting that it “made her stronger”.
Tracey Ferrin, 39, was pregnant with her second child and going through gruelling cancer treatment when her marriage broke down.
When the mum fell pregnant she was determined to remain as active as possible – keeping up her regular volleyball games as she tried her best to keep moving – but a niggling pain in her leg began to trouble her.
But the expectant mother from Texas, who was already mum to baby Elly, was just 18 at the time and the picture of health, so she wasn’t too concerned the pain was serious, reports the Mirror.
And after asking her aunt, who was a midwife, if the bump above her knee was anything to worry about, she was reassured it was probably nothing.
However, when Tracey and her husband Nick went to church one Sunday morning with her family, a doctor who specialised in knees and shoulders advised her to go to the hospital.
“He didn’t say anything at the time but later, he admitted to me he knew it was serious,” Tracey said.
(Image: Tracey Ferrin)
The expectant mum went to the hospital the next day for scans – and soon received a horrifying diagnosis – she had osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
Suddenly Tracey was faced with an impossible choice; abort her baby and begin chemotherapy or delay the cancer treatment and risk her own health to give the baby the best possible chance of survival. But for Tracey, there was only ever one option.
“I said I wouldn’t terminate the pregnancy and we’d have to figure it out,” she recalled.
Choosing to delay chemotherapy until she was six months pregnant, Tracey took a huge gamble.
She began her first rounds of chemo as she entered her third trimester – and while she didn’t find it too tough at first, she suffered hair loss and nausea.
While juggling chemotherapy with being a mum to 10-month-old Elly, her relationship crumbled around her.
Shortly after her first chemotherapy appointment, Tracey came home and vomited in the toilet. When she walked back into the living room, Nick told her he was leaving her.
“He couldn’t handle it,” Tracey recalled. “He’d been upset that I hadn’t focused on my own health by going through with the termination.
“I can talk about it now, but at the time it was heartbreaking. I was pregnant, I had a 10-month-old baby and I was fighting for my life.”
However, Tracey thinks the seriousness of her condition meant she had no choice but to carry on and try to get well for Elly and her unborn child.
Looking back, she also realises Nick had been struggling in a way that wasn’t fully recognised at the time.
“I think all those years ago we didn’t understand mental health. He wasn’t always the nicest guy but at the time I didn’t know he was struggling,” she said.
For the next few months, Tracey’s body went through enormous strain as she continued to have chemotherapy which continually caused her body to go into early labour.
After each round, Tracey had to stay in hospital and was pumped full of more drugs to stop contractions.
Six weeks before her due date, doctors decided they couldn’t wait any longer and delivered Tracey’s baby.
“I remember thinking, ‘am I delivering an alien?’ because my doctors had never delivered a baby that had been exposed to chemotherapy before,” Tracey recalled.
“I was bald and sick, and we were expecting I’d have a bald baby too – but she came out with a full head of dark hair.
“We also didn’t expect she’d be screaming at the top of her lungs.”
Although Tracey and Nick were separated, he was at the hospital during Tracey’s labour – and the pair were both relieved when little Fayth was born at 3lb 10oz.
“She was tiny of course, but she was ok,” Tracey said.
As Fayth was whisked away to NICU, the mum said she felt “relief.”
She said: “I thought, ‘She’s out and now I can focus on myself. I don’t have to worry about her anymore’.”
There was little rest for single mum Tacey who had to resume chemo two weeks after giving birth – and her mum came to the rescue to look after the girls while she had treatment.
(Image: Tracey Ferrin)
“Mum became the main caregiver for my children and for me. She missed so much work she got fired,” Tracey said.
“I couldn’t even do feedings for Fayth because I didn’t have any energy. Mum was essentially mothering my child.”
For the next year, Tracey continued with her treatment – which included an operation to remove part of the tumour from her leg.
“I couldn’t walk on it for about 10 months. When you’re having chemo, your body heals much more slowly.”
Finally, after more than a year of gruelling treatment which left her body in pieces, Tracey went into remission – but she struggled to settle back into her old life.
“The transition was harder than I thought. I couldn’t tell people about it who hadn’t been through it because they just didn’t get it.
“When you’re in that situation you go into survival mode and don’t have time to process anything. But when it’s done, that’s when it hits you.”
She added that, after spending so much time alone because her weakened immune system meant she had to avoid seeing people, she found it hard to be sociable again.
Tracey said: “I was also learning how to be a mum to two girls and that involved a lot of adjustments. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life from now on.”
But while at church with her family a year after finishing chemo, Tracey met a guy called Ryan – who quickly slotted into her life.
(Image: Tracey Ferrin)
“He scooped me right up,” she laughed.
“After our first date, I went home to my mum and said, ‘I’m going to marry him’.”
Four weeks later, Tracey’s prediction came true when Ryan popped the question. Three months after their engagement, the pair were married.
After a whirlwind romance Tracey and Ryan went on to have two sons, Bubba, now 17 and Noah, 13.
“Bubba is just like his Daddy – fair and level-headed through and through,” Tracey said.
“Noah is my little redhead. He looks just like me but he’s a boy and he’s the sweetest little gentle soul.”
Elly and Fayth, now 22 and 20, have grown up with Ryan as their dad as he took them under his wing when he first met Tracey – and eventually adopted them.
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But in 2016 the family’s strong foundation was rocked when Tracey’s first husband and the girls’ biological father Nick took his own life.
“It was really hard,” Tracey said. “His dad called me to tell me. I just went into shock – it didn’t seem real.
“Then I was a mess. I felt such guilt. I’d never felt resentment towards him but I wondered what would have happened if I’d done things differently.”
As the family grappled with Nick’s death, Tracey said she began to realise that men are not encouraged to be honest and open about their mental health struggles.
“In general there’s a shame around it for men. It seems more acceptable for women to talk about it than men.
(Image: Tracey Ferrin)
“I don’t know how much of that was a factor in Nick’s case,” she added.
Looking back on the breakdown of their relationship more than 20 years ago, Tracey said: “I never blamed him. Where was blaming him going to get me? If anything, it would have stopped me from moving forward.”
Tracey, Ryan, Elly and Fayth went to Nick’s funeral to pay their respects – and as the girls begin their own lives as adults, Tracey wants them to know about their biological father when they’re ready.
And now raising two teenage boys, Tracey is insistent that they are encouraged to share how they’re feeling.
She said: “Noah isn’t your typical kid. He’s compassionate and he has empathy. He’s in tune with how other people are feeling and I feel like I have to encourage that.
“It’s ok to be a boy and express your feelings.”
Tracey added she fights against the idea boys should “toughen up.”
As for her own well-being, she says getting into fitness in her late 20s helped her become a stronger person – both physically and mentally.
“I was invited to take a fitness class one day – and after that, I just couldn’t stop.
“After my surgery doctors weren’t sure if I’d be able to go on and do lots of active things. It lit a fire in me and I wanted to prove to them that they were wrong.
“I was a mum with four babies at home and I was still processing cancer. I was a bit lost and I didn’t really know what I liked.”
After discovering fitness, Tracey gained back the confidence she’d lost when she was sick. Before long, she realised she wanted to help other people get fit too and qualified as a fitness instructor, teaching others for seven years.
Last year, Tracey went on to manage two boutique gyms – but the busy mum-of-four has plenty of other projects outside of her main job too.
In 2020, Tracey published a book about her story, Up Struggle, which she hoped would help other people move forward from tragedy in their lives.
She has also spoken at several events to tell her story in the hope other people recovering from cancer can get their confidence back and find enjoyment in life again.
She said: “I have gone through so many struggles but I felt I was growing from them. Not everyone else does.
“I was so tired of seeing so many women struggle and I wanted to use my own story to inspire others.”
If you’re struggling with your mental health and need someone to talk to, the Samaritans helpline is open 24/7 on 116 123