By Columnist, Nancy Eshelman
It’s not a pretty scenario. A 48-year-old woman sits in the living room of her Carlisle home. She stays on the first floor these days; the stairs are just too much. Before this began, she weighed 157 pounds. These days the scale barely tops 100. She’s lost her hair and her appetite to chemotherapy. The side effects are grueling; the pain intense. Then the phone rings. A bill collector is on the other end.
Tracie Stiles has been living a nightmare. For months, she didn’t feel well. Doctors adjusted her cholesterol medicines, diagnosed her with Lyme disease, prescribed opioids, called it fibromyalgia and sent her to water therapy. Eventually, she collapsed in her backyard.
After a CT scan and a biopsy in late September, she was told she had Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. She was lucky, they told her, because the cancer was in the tail of her pancreas. Surgeons removed the diseased part, as well as her spleen and a small part of her stomach.
But, she didn’t heal. Her pain was intense. In February, after more tests, they said her cancer was Stage 4. It had spread.
Tracie is a nurse. She read the report, turned to her husband, and said, “We’ve got to tell the kids.” Her sons, Donnie and Conner, are 22 and 13. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life,” she said.
The Stiles are a tight-knit family, transplants from Virginia Beach, who lost their home to Hurricane Isabel in 2003. They have no family nearby, and Tracie’s husband Cliff doesn’t drive due to medical issues.
With Tracie sidelined, bills began to pile up: Co-pays for drugs, using Uber to get to medical appointments, glasses for Tracie, whose eyesight is bad due to diabetes. “I have to wonder every week if there’s enough gas to get to chemo,” Tracie said.
A hospital social worker told Tracie about Vickie’s Angels. She filled out the form and was shocked when someone contacted her two days later. Vickie’s Angels paid the family’s rent, allowing Tracie to fill up the gas tank and pick up her eyeglasses.
“Without Vickie’s Angels I wouldn’t be able to see right now,” she said. “That was just a big weight off me that I don’t have to worry about this right now. I can worry about me for now.”
Tracie said she tries to remain positive and focus on each day. She credits her husband and sons, who are her caregivers, for bringing her this far. “I don’t think I’d have been here as long as I have if I didn’t have their support,” she said.
And thanks to Vickie’s Angel’s, she isn’t hearing from quite so many bill collectors.