Lori Tragesser Fully Embraced Life and Those Around Her
The word cancer is scary, but certain personalities are born to rally, and that’s precisely what Lori Tragesser did when she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in 2012. A married mother of five, Lori was motivated to get healthy and stay that way, so she chose an aggressive treatment path that included chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.
After breast reconstruction surgery, she felt very good – empowered, even.
“I was ready to take on the world,” Lori had said.
For two years all seemed good, but then she began experiencing pain in her collarbone making it difficult to sleep. Her doctor instructed her to have a bone biopsy, which sounded ominous. The diagnosis wasn’t good.
“You have metastatic breast cancer,” the doctor stated. “It’s non-curable but treatable.”
When Ben and Lori researched metastatic breast cancer, the results made their stomachs drop – life expectancy is typically three years. After receiving such a devastating diagnosis, Ben says Lori allowed herself one day of self pity before diving into research to find out what medicines and treatment regimens were available.
She attended several conferences, including one called “Living Beyond Breast Cancer” where participants taught her how to be an advocate in her own community. She signed up to be a part of “Hear my Voice”, an advocacy program through which newly diagnosed patients with metastatic breast cancer can call a patient who can answer questions and help them feel less alone.
“She could have used someone like that to talk to when she was first diagnosed, so when the opportunity came up for her to do that for someone else, she was all about it,” Ben says.
Lori’s friends who had also been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer became her go-to gals when she needed a pick-me-up or just a good laugh.
“We can joke about dying or joke about not having hair, and nobody is offended,” Lori had said.
When Lori first joined “Hear My Voice”, the group consisted of 36 members. Four years later, only two women were still alive.
Lori volunteered with Susan G. Komen Central Indiana, helping with the organization’s annual fundraising fashion show. She also traveled to Orlando to speak at an Eli Lilly national sales meeting, and was the keynote speaker at her oldest son’s graduation. In addition, she created a blog depicting her cancer journey.
“Everyone is curious about what it’s like to have cancer,” Lori stated. “It’s important to me to let people know this is what this is, but you can still live life. You can still love people and do things for each other.”
More than 1,000 women followed her blog, from England to New Zealand, Australia and China.
“It made us realize that there are women all over the world who are experiencing the exact same emotions and feelings,” Ben says.
Lori kept things real on her blog, admitting that feelings don’t always necessarily make sense. For instance, she mentioned that after undergoing treatments for a period of time, people often don’t know what to say.
“They see me living a normal life and so they back off and don’t ask as much, which is upsetting because I feel like they have forgotten [about me],” Lori explained.
On the other hand, she recognized that sometimes she’s wasn’t up for sharing her feelings.
“When people ask how I’m doing and I’m not in the mood to talk, then I feel bad because I was just whining that nobody asks about me, and now I’m complaining because people are bugging me,” she had said with a laugh.
Besides being a mom to her own kids, Jake, Luke, Levi, David and Lydia, she also mothered her children’s friends who were frequently over at her house.
“Many of those kids thought of Lori as their second mom,” Ben says. “Some thought of her as their first. Whether they were struggling with homework, home life or anything else, she was there for them.”
Though Lori longed to live a normal life, she admitted that her mortality was the last thing she thought of before going to sleep and the first thing she’d think of when she woke up in the morning. Nevertheless, she did her best to make great memories with her children. The family endeavored to check off bucket-list items, like trying to visit all of the 48 lower states (they were just six states short).
Lori left a few treasures behind for her kids and unborn grandkids. For example, she made electronic cards for their weddings and births. She also recorded her voice reading several children’s books. Plus, she made a book for her family that told her life story. Though she wanted it to be a surprise for the family, as she was nearing the end, she struggled with confusion and mobility so Ben helped out. When Lori passed away on May 26, 2019, nearly 800 people attended her funeral.
According to Ben, their children are adjusting well despite the large void in their lives.
“We were fortunate in that Lori’s death wasn’t unexpected,” says Ben, noting that his wife thought of everything, even making sure she had given him password information for bank accounts, insurance and websites. “Everybody had time to say goodbye. I think that helped a lot.”
Throughout her cancer journey, Lori’s attitude was one of gratitude. She was grateful for her healthy children and for her rock-solid, 24-year marriage to Ben – a union that seemed destined from the start. The enamored couple was engaged only three months after meeting.
“I moved into the apartment upstairs from her,” Ben recalls. “After moving in, she introduced herself and invited me to a birthday party she was throwing for a friend.”
The pair immediately hit it off. During the first three weeks they mostly just chatted on the porch. During one of those early conversations, she mentioned that she wanted to have a lot of kids.
“I think she was feeling me out,” Ben says with a chuckle.
Asked to describe his beautiful bride, his voice cracks as he replies, “She was everything.”
To read Lori’s blog, visit yourstrulylori.com.