Three words changed Tracey Jegel’s life forever. Three words dumped her into a deep pit of despair and tested her unyielding determination. Three words took her right to death’s doorstep and, ultimately, opened her eyes to life’s wonder.
Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia.
“The doctor told me that I needed a bonemarrow transplant… I was just 19 years old and did not want to die,” says present-day nurse, Tracey.
Back then she thought cancer was synonymous with death, but in her case it had the opposite effect.
It reinvigorated her.
The odds were that she would succumb to a life of hardship and that she would never be able to have children of her own.
Faith, hope and love never consider the odds.
TygerBurger caught up with the resolute Parow resident to get to the root of her enthusiasm.
Since she was diagnosed with cancer, scrutinised by doctors and saved from despondency, Tracey has gone on to win several medals at the World Transplant Games (WTG).
When she crossed the finish line in 2009 and won a gold medal in the 3 km walk for South Africa, one would have been forgiven for thinking at the time that her race only started three kilometres back.
In fact, it started more than a decade earlier when she heard those three words for the first time.
“In December 1995 I was in Tygerberg Hospital and all alone. Then a whole group of doctors and students came in the room and I thought it was a bit strange. So they said to me that the test results were not good and that I have Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML). I thought I was going to die… The more they explained the more I cried,” remembers Tracey.
She was told that she would need a bonemarrow transplant from a relative donor, who in this case was her older brother.
In August the next year the transplant was performed.
She was told that there was a possibility that her body might reject it, so about two to three months after the transplant she went into a relapse.
“The doctors expected it to happen, so they had a ‘boost’ ready, but I thought I was in remission and now it’s coming back… That was my lowest point. I found my strength in prayer and my family, particularly my mother,” she adds.
She was told that the chemotherapy and total body radiation sessions would leave her infertile and, in effect, propel her straight into menopause.
This devastating news inadvertently led to her happiest moment.
A few years later a gynaecologist confirmed that she was pregnant. She was to be the first post-bonemarrow transplant recipient who conceived naturally.
Tracey immediately phoned her husband, Brendan.
“I was like a teenager! I just couldn’t stop laughing! It was a miracle. I gave birth to Matthew (now 5) and then six months later I was pregnant again with Phoebe (4), who was born in 2008.”
Tracey insists that two miracles (in this regard) are enough.
She and her husband-to-be, Brendan, first went to the bi-annual WTG (Budapest 1999), where Tracey won a silver medal in the 3 km walk.
She has competed in numerous WTGs since and excelled in this event. She has also started competing in 10-pin bowling and petanque (form of boules), but now her biggest challenge has become her age – and there’s no cure for that!