Little things mean a lotOn Sunday, family, friends and community members will gather at Mr. D’s to eat spaghetti, bid on auction items and support Tracy Starkes Plunkett of Wentworth.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
On Sunday, family, friends and community members will gather at Mr. D’s to eat spaghetti, bid on auction items and support Tracy Starkes Plunkett of Wentworth.
For Bea and Teri Starkes, this is not just another benefit. It’s a chance to help a woman whose first thought is of others, who smiles even as she battles stage 4 breast cancer.
“She is so upbeat about everything,” said Bea Starkes, Tracy’s mother.
“I’ve never heard her complain,” said Teri Starkes, Tracy’s sister.
But medical bills for Tracy and her husband, Don, are piling up as doctors try to keep ahead of the cancer, which has spread to her bones, settled under her skin and left lesions on her lungs.
Teri decided to hold the benefit in mid-August.
“Because she’s my sister; I’d do anything in the world for her,” Teri Starkes said.
Since then, she’s been traveling around the area, collecting food and gathering donations. She brings a notebook full of ideas and contacts for the benefit wherever she goes.
Although Tracy is 10 years older, Teri said, her sister is her best friend.
“I get two for the price of one,” she said. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Tracy was born and raised in Duluth and graduated from Denfeld High School. But she has friends throughout the region – from Hermantown to Cloverland.
“She has always been thoughtful and kind to everybody,” Bea Starkes said. “I think that’s why she has so many friends.”
When a co-worker’s son died, Tracy didn’t just express condolences. She quietly brought the woman bags of groceries. If someone needs help, Tracy is there organizing a bake sale or finding them towels.
“She’s done so much for other people,” Teri Starkes said; it’s time to return the favor.
Seven years ago, Tracy was diagnosed with ductal breast cancer. While everyone was celebrating New Year’s Eve, she was home recovering from a biopsy.
Tracy underwent a mastectomy, than had surgery to remove her ovaries. With the cancer quashed, Tracy again reached out to help others. She worked as a telephone volunteer to get women to schedule mammograms and rowed with a team of breast cancer survivors in the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival.
“I was doing really good until three years ago,” Tracy said, when cancer resurfaced – this time as lobular breast cancer.
She decided to take an active role in her treatment, learning the terms and watching procedures take place. The device that put a tumor marker in her breast reminded Tracy of a price tag gun. She envisioned beeping every time she went through a store scanner, and explaining to the workers that it was “just my breast.”
“I try to look at the humorous side of things,” she said. “I try to keep things positive.”
But Tracy knows that cancer will be with her for the rest of her life.
“Someday it’s going to take over,” she said. “I’m stage 4, but you’ve still got to try.”
Hopes for recovery are dim, but doctors could chase the cancer into remission if they can get ahead of it.
By February, Tracy will face one of her toughest moments. The intensive chemotherapy she’s scheduled for will take her hair.
“I’m having issues with losing my hair,” Tracy said. But she’s thinking positive – now she can try out different colors and styles through wigs.
On Aug. 1, Tracy danced at her son’s wedding. A week later, she started a two-week round of radiation.
“Holy crap,” Tracy said with a laugh. “High to low in just a couple of days.”
During the whirlwind of activity, her husband’s medical insurance changed to one with a much higher deductible amount. These days, Tracy’s focus has been split between dealing with bills, finding secondary insurance, and, oh, getting well.
Her sister hopes the benefit will give Tracy a chance to see old friends, make new ones, and ease her burdens.
“I want her to have fun and not think of cancer for the day,” Teri Starkes said.
For Tracy, cancer has given her a new clarity of vision.
“You see things differently,” she said. “The stars in the sky are different.”
Tracy doesn’t sweat the small stuff, like spending extra time in line at the store or worrying about the heat or cold. She finds joy and excitement in a simple trip to the store or preparing for Christmas. And, despite some initial trepidation, she is looking forward to the benefit.
“I’m anxious to see people and talk to them,” Tracy said. “I would love to have people come up to me and give me a hug.”
If they do, they can expect a smile.
“I think when she smiles, the whole world smiles,” Bea Starkes said.