Survivor’s Invention Eases Patients’ Pain

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WOOSTER, Ohio – Tracy Shelton proudly walked with a bag, a smile and a skip in her step on Thursday.

Yet, there was one thing missing from her pink-clad wardrobe: the hat she’s been wearing for months.

Shelton, 49, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in February. She underwent a lumpectomy, a round of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments. After she started losing her hair, in May, she wore a hat every day to conceal the change – until now.

“It’s amazing,” Shelton said. “I’ve had so many of my cheerleaders tell me, ‘You look great. Don’t wear that scarf, don’t cover it up.’ For me to give it up today, that’s kind of like saying goodbye.”

Shelton finished her final radiation treatment on Sept. 27. Her oncologist, Dr. Daesung Lee of the Cleveland Clinic, said the prognosis looks good.

“She has a very positive attitude about going through treatment, and she’s very motivated,” Lee said.

It’s a vast change from how she felt months ago, as her treatments not only caused hair loss but sensitivity throughout her body, especially her breasts.

“I would put a seatbelt on, and it would rub the area of radiation, and it was very uncomfortable, uncomfortable enough to where you’d just want to unlock your seat belt,” Shelton said.

She discovered other patients experienced the same, so Shelton decided to create a padded seat belt cover to ease the pain.

“So I just started cutting fleece, and what I ended up creating is where these just Velcro around the seatbelt,” she said. “They can protect the area of the chest.”

On a follow-up visit with her doctor, Shelton donated the seat belt covers to other cancer patients at the hospital.

“I was really impressed with the idea," Lee said. “Coming up with this wonderful idea and devoting time and energy to make it better for other people, I think, is very wonderful.”

She may have her hair back and a renewed sense of pride, but Shelton said it hasn’t been easy. Truly one person has motivated her the entire time: her grandson, Bryan.

“I do raise a special-needs grandchild,” she said. “I think my immediate, my immediate attention went to, ‘What if I’m not here? What’s going to happen to him?'”

With his hugs and laughter, the 9-year-old has been a vital part of Shelton’s recovery.

“I became a fighter because I knew, I knew I’d need at least 10 more years to see him into adulthood,” she said. That was one of my main motivations in the beginning. It wasn’t the fact of ‘why did I get cancer.’”

Shelton graduated from college in March, and now plans to study to become a radiation technician. She would like to work with patients who are experience what she had, and above all, to provide Bryan with a bright future.

“God has blessed me with a new day,” Shelton said. “It’s not to walk around miserable. It’s to walk around with happiness and enjoy every minute of it because you don’t know if it’s going to be your last.”