There are moments in life that you remember as clear as day no matter how much time has gone by. No matter how happy — or devastating — those moments turn out to be.
For ABC-7 meteorologist Tracy Butler — 3 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2018 — was one of those devastating moments. She got a call from her doctor telling her she had breast cancer.
Though a year has gone by and she is now “cancer-free,” Butler said every detail of that day — and the decision to finally resume her annual mammogram screening — still plays out in her head as if it were yesterday.
“We have a million excuses,” Butler said, admitting she had put off mammograms for three years prior to 2018. “I have two girls. I’m really busy. I’ve got a lot of stuff at work going on. The thing is I assumed since I didn’t have a family history of cancer — MS runs in my family, heart disease runs in my family — never in a million years did I dream it would be cancer.”
Butler said she faithfully gets annual physicals but had not been as religious about mammograms. For some reason, she said, this time something was different. Something “made her” heed her doctor’s advice and get a screening.
“I kid you not, last year in early December, I said this is my Christmas gift to myself. I’m going to get a mammogram,” Butler said. “And I firmly believe that God was there telling me this is your Christmas gift to yourself. Because why then? For two years, the doctor said that same thing to me, and I still didn’t go — because again I was too busy. I seriously think God gave me a little push.”
The initial mammogram results prompted a call from her doctor, who told her they had “seen something” on the test that required “further screening.”
“[I was told] 95 percent of the time it’s nothing,” Butler said. “So I went back. And they said this needs a further look-see, and we better do an ultrasound to get a closer look.”
That confirmed the presence of cancer.
“I got this call,” Butler said. “I was by myself at home. [The doctor] said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, this is cancer.’ And when you get something that’s shocking — I felt, pardon the weather analogy — but I felt like I was just floating in a cloud. … You hear that word cancer. And it’s debilitating to hear it no matter what stage you’re in. My husband came home, and I was on the floor sobbing. … It’s so weird. When I walk through that moment, It was such a shock I didn’t feel anything.
“In the grand scheme of things, I think I’m really lucky,” she said. “My faith certainly has lot to do with that. ... There are so many people in this world who have more dire circumstances than I do. And I just feel really, really blessed.”
One of the hardest things, Butler said, was telling her two teen daughters about the diagnosis.
“I have two daughters [Crystina, 14, and Cassandra, 17], and this is something they’re going to have to be very strict and religious about because now there is a family history,” she said. “The hardest part was when I had to tell them. My oldest one, the day I told her [pauses], I went up to go to sleep — she tucks me in every night because I go to sleep at 6 o’clock. She’s quite the artist, and she had done a calligraphy of a bible verse, and it was lying on my bed. I’m so lucky I have two young ladies who have been there for me through this whole journey.”
Butler said her husband Michael, her family and her circle of girlfriends have been a godsend throughout all of the doctors’ appointments, surgery and treatments.
“I can’t stress enough to have an advocate with you,” Butler said. “It was incredibly helpful because when you’re in the initial stages of something like this, everything the doctors are telling you may not register. And sure enough, there were things [her advocate] did pick up on that I don’t remember being said.”
According to breastcancer.org, one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes. Organizations such as this and the American Cancer Society’s cancer.org website are excellent sources of information and resources for patients and their families. The ACS site stresses things such as maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and limiting or avoiding alcohol use to help reduce risk factors, as well as the need for regular screenings.
More than anything, Butler said she wants women to take the time to take care of themselves and get those annual mammograms no matter how crazy busy life can seem.
“Please don’t ever be too busy to take care of yourself. ... After I made my announcement ... I can’t tell you how many people wrote to me and have used the word fear,” Butler said. “Because they fear what the diagnosis is going to be. Maybe they have a family history. But do you really want to go along not knowing? Because look at me — there’s something that can be done. And I want everybody if possible to be that fortunate, too.”
Butler, an avid golfer who has a “serious Twizzler addiction,” said that, since her diagnosis, she has been much more conscious about her diet and working out.
“My husband and I love to golf, so whenever we can get in some golf, we do that together.”
Her work also has given her a renewed sense of normalcy and joy.
“Again, I feel so blessed and so lucky. I never thought I’d be at the same television station for 25 years,” she said with a beaming smile. “And to be able to be the longest-running female meteorologist in this market. I give so much credit and gratitude to our viewers here. … I can’t thank them enough for embracing me and allowing me into their homes every single day.”
Butler’s community outreach also includes her beloved Weather Sketchers Club, a program through which children draw pictures of the weather and send them to her. She selects 10 of them to air each week during her weather segments.
“I am so proud of the Weather Sketchers. This was a program that I started many years ago because so many schools were cutting their art and music programs. Some kids are so creative, and I think that needs to be nurtured as much as possible because some children are just more able to communicate through art and through their crayons and being able to get something on paper.
“It’s not easy to draw a windy day. Think about drawing an action like that! I can’t tell you how many spectacular pieces of art I’ve come across. That’s one of the best parts of my job.”
The most challenging and exciting part of her job is the forecasting, she said. And, yes, she gets her the occasional blame when the weather is less than favorable.
“I don’t control the weather as much as some of the guys over at ESPN [radio 1000-AM, where Butler provides weather updates] think I can,” Butler said. “The technology has really just become incredibly advanced. I love to build puzzles. That’s a big hobby of mine. I look at forecasting as building a puzzle. You’re looking at different pieces of the atmosphere trying to fit them together. Sometimes, we’re missing a piece. So maybe the forecast is a tiny bit off. But I think a lot of time the pieces do fall together.”
Will Chicago have a white Christmas?
“It’s too early to tell,” Butler said, smiling. “I think it could be a little bit above average temperature-wise, but we’ll see how that comes out.”