There is an enthusiasm in Tracy Rau's voice you may not expect.
The Fort Wayne woman has survived five bouts with cancer, lost her sight and is out of work. She goes back next week for a checkup at the Cleveland Clinic, hopeful testing will not show any new cancer.
Faith, family and friends have helped her stay positive, she said. That's a message she'd like to share with others through speaking to church and women's groups, those who are grieving, teens, and cancer patients.
“A lot of people are afraid to ask for help,” Rau, 38, said. “They think they can go through life alone. But I learned real fast you can't do it alone.”
Rau's first encounters with cancer came as a toddler.
The disease attacked her eyes, causing her to lose one eye at age 2 and the other a year later.
Though blind, she remained cancer-free until 2010, when pain in her head and jaw turned out to be a return of the disease.
She received treatment at Cleveland Clinic, where she endured four months of chemotherapy and more than six weeks of radiation treatments.
Her mother, Linda Wappes, would travel with her to Cleveland and stay while she was treated. Her husband, Bill, had to stay behind to work because he was the one with a job.
“He would give me a hug,” she recalled, “and that would have to last until I came home.”
Doctors found spots of cancer on her left lung in 2012 and again this past August. Both discoveries meant more radiation treatments.
Before doctors detected the cancer in her lung, Rau had become involved in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend's ministry to people with disabilities.
At a ministry event in South Bend, she was asked to read one of the Bible passages during a Mass for people with disabilities. Afterward, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades suggested she consider becoming a lector at her home parish, Our Lady of Good Hope on St. Joe Road.
With Bill and her service dog, Porter, helping her to the lectern and her using a Braille Bible, she soon became one of the congregation members doing Bible readings during Masses at her parish.
That gave her the idea to offer herself as a motivational speaker, a job through which she can help others and possibly earn a little money to pay medical bills.
“I had never thought about getting up in front of people,” she said. “But who better to talk to people than someone who has been through it?”
Rau, who also has 10 years of experience as a receptionist, hopes to find other work as well. She believes she can spread the message that people with disabilities can be solid contributors at work and in society.
For people who are suffering or who are down, Rau wants to tell them to open their minds and hearts to family and friends. Surround yourself with positive people, and ask for help if you need it.
If you count the positives and negatives in your life, you may be surprised by how often the good things outnumber the bad, she said.
She also finds comfort in faith.
As she tries to deal with the challenges facing her, she takes time to sit in a quiet place and pray.
“It is easy to blame God for struggles you are going through,' she said, “but it is him who brings you through it.
“It doesn't matter how many mountains you have to climb,” she added. “There is light at the end of the tunnel, and you have someone to go through it with.”