Tracey Lawrence, nurse extraordinaire
FEELING depressed? Spend a little time with Tracey Lawrence and you’ll soon feel like you’re on top of the world, maybe even on cloud nine, which is where she says she lives nowadays.
Yet this extraordinary woman has just published a book containing this paragraph: I am a strong believer that with our heads, hearts, and hands we can make a difference. However, in plotting my path as to where I see myself in five years I was stopped by the words, “You have breast cancer.”
I have since gone through surgery, physical therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation, with the pending unknown. Despite my faith in God I have most of the usual signs and symptoms. The natural and normal tendency is to get depressed, cry, ask why, and give up on life because it is truly difficult. Knowing this, I decided to put my trust in God and decided that every single day I rise with the gift of breath I am going to smile at the storm.
From that declaration comes the title of her self-published book, Smiling Through the Storm, and the theme of her talk at a recent Principal’s Hour at Excelsior Community College, of which she is a proud alumni.
In the book she expands on the paragraph, emphasising her faith in God, going into detail about her experiences with breast cancer, a number of other illnesses she suffered from, and her decision to face every adversity with optimism.
Because she did that she gained the admiration of her family and countless friends and acquaintances. Members of the last two groups she gained from the many schools and universities she attended and the places she’s worked.
Life generally, her formal educational institutions, and especially her illnesses, have taught her a great deal. The natural teacher she is, she was determined that she would pass on her learning.
Her book is just one of the ways of doing this.
It begins dramatically: “Suddenly, my world came to a halt.”
What happened was that in the summer of 2017, while showering one night after work, she felt a lump under her left breast. Within the hour — because she and her mother were both nurses at a hospital that accommodated her — with quick lab tests, a mammogram, and ultrasound a radiologist was able to tell her that she might have cancer.
Her Principal’s Hour talk began on a lower key, with her telling the audience of wasting time for a couple of years after enrolling at Excelsior Community College (ECC). It was her mother’s idea, but Tracey’s intention was only to have as much fun as she had enjoyed at high school.
She ended the school year getting with one CSEC subject. Her mother sent her back to try again and the following year saw her acquiring two more. Sent back a third time, she eventually got enough subjects to enroll in the college’s business education programme.
After she graduated the college sourced a job for her at an insurance company and she continued working until, at age 37, she decided that she wanted to be a nurse. She enrolled in ECC’s School of Nursing, and though she found the programme difficult she later discovered, while working in the United States, that her knowledge and training enabled her to take excellent care of her patients.
Her caring for people has continued in many other forms. While being treated for cancer she pursued a master’s degree in nursing education and taught in that field. While receiving chemotherapy she made and sold jewellery. She also counselled many in financial planning.
“I need to be touching a life every single day that I am living — whether it be in the supermarket, hospital, pharmacy, hairdresser, in an Uber — be it wherever I need to put a smile on someone’s face,” is how she explains her attitude towards helping others.
The love that she gets back is shown in every chapter of the book, especially in chapter eight, Testimonials. There Tracey publishes essays of admiration from some two dozen adults. In another chapter, Beyond Words, we are treated to images of handmade get-well cards and letters from several children at Mount Waddy Primary School, St. Ann.
At one of the two Principal’s Hour talks that Tracey gave, Vice-Principal Academic Affairs and Institutional Advancement Dr Zaria Malcolm Walker said that she enjoyed Tracey’s book and that it and Tracey’s strength could help everybody. “We all have our challenges,” she said.
The principal, Philmore McCarthy, who had 20 of the books to give away, said that Tracey showed how important it is to have a support system and to prepare for eventualities.
She also showed, he said, how important is having trust in God.