Tricia Buysse of Alexandria to serve as a Relay for Life honorary survivor

Event will take place Friday, July 9, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

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Tricia Buysse (right), pictured with her husband, Craig, and children, Maddi and Ethan, is one of the honorary survivors at this year's Relay for Life of Douglas County event. (Contributed photo)

Within a six-month period in 2018 – July through December – Tricia Buysse had her routine mammogram, was told she had a tumor so small she would have never felt it, had an ultrasound, a biopsy, was told she had stage 1 breast cancer, underwent a lumpectomy, had four lymph nodes removed and had eight chemo treatments and 33 radiation treatments.

And now three years later, the 49-year-old from Alexandria will be one of the honorary survivors at this year’s Relay for Life of Douglas County event, which will take place Friday, July 9, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. The opening ceremony begins at 6 p.m.

Buysse, who works at Ellingson’s Plumbing and Heating, will be attending the event with her husband, Craig, a funeral director at Anderson Funeral Home, and their two children – Maddi, 15, and Ethan, 12.

Buysse said it is such an honor to be one of this year’s honorary survivors.

“It was so nice that someone thought of me,” she said.


This is not the first year the family has attended the Relay for Life event. They went in 2018 and Buysse walked the survivor lap. While at the event, they like to read through the names on the luminaria bags and say a prayer for every name they recognize.

They are looking forward to this year’s event and are happy it is an in-person event this time.

No family history of cancer

Also during that six month period back in 2018, Buysse went through genetic testing. She was tested for the breast cancer gene, commonly known as the BRCA gene. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are two different genes that have been found to impact a person’s chance of developing breast cancer. They, themselves, do not cause breast cancer. In fact, they normally play a big role in preventing breast cancer and they are known as tumor suppressor genes.

In some people, however, they don’t work properly because they become altered or broken, which is called a gene mutation. A small percentage of people – about one in 400 – carry the mutated BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene, which puts them at a higher risk for breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Buysse found out, though, that she does not carry the BRCA mutated genes and is one of the one in eight women who just get breast cancer for no apparent reason.

“When I was diagnosed, I worked with eight women,” she said. “I guess I was taking one for the team.”

On her last day of chemo, which was Oct. 12, 2018, Tricia Buysse's coworkers surprised her by coming to the hospital to celebrate with her. Donning their pink shirts in her honor were, clockwise from left, Joy Rodas, Nancy Olson, Kristi Greathouse, Jacque Yavarow, Sara Holm and Diane Rounds. (Contributed photo)


Buysse said there's no history of cancer in her family, anywhere. As far as she knows, she is the first person to be diagnosed with it.

And although she is not a carrier of the BRCA gene, her daughter will have to start getting mammograms earlier than most women. Buysse said she was told that she should start 10 years before the age she was when she was diagnosed. Because she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46, that means Maddi will get her first mammogram when she is 36.

Buysse said it also affects her niece and that she should also start having routine mammograms at an earlier age. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, women who are 40 and older should have a mammogram every one to two years. Women who are younger than 40 and who have risk factors, should speak with their healthcare providers to find out when it is best for them to start having routine mammograms.

The diagnosis

Buysse was told that after the biopsy was performed that she would get the results within three to four weeks.

The next day, while she was preparing for her daughter’s sixth-grade graduation from St. Mary’s School with a group of other moms, her cell phone rang and she recognized the number. She stepped outside to take the call and after hearing the word, cancer, stayed outside for quite awhile. Buysse called her husband immediately. He told her to remain calm, go back inside and that they would get through it together.
“It was a big shock,” said Craig Buysse. “I thought, ‘Wow! This is really happening.’ I was glad they caught it early and I knew we would be able to get through it together.”

The couple got through the graduation and also the church service the next day without telling anyone. And they ended up not sharing the news until after they had met with the surgeon.

After that, things moved very quickly and by the time December rolled around, Tricia Buysse said she was cancer-free.


Throughout her experience, the couple said they were so thankful for all the support they received from not only their families, but also all the people they both work with. On her last day of chemo, Buysse said her co-workers surprised her and showed up at the hospital – each one donning a pink T-shirt in her honor. The owners of the Ellingson’s bought a pink T-shirt for each employee to wear on her last day of treatment. She said she even received selfie pictures from those who were working outside the office and who couldn’t be at the hospital.


“It was such a cool thing and meant a lot,” she said.

Buysse said she was also thankful the breast cancer was caught early and is a huge supporter of mammograms. She has been getting them for a number of years and said when she talks to family and friends, she tells them to “Get it done. It’s not that bad.”

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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