Preston Hollow resident Jani Salyers joined a neighborhood gym with the standard intentions: She wanted to stay in shape. And when the gym offered a new speed-walking class, she signed on.
“I couldn’t run for various health reasons, and I thought this sounded really fun,” she says.
She didn’t know that class would change her life forever, because that’s where she met Tracy Jo Wilson, who was coaching the class.
“She was such a good motivator, and she was in love with life,” Salyers says. “And funny, oh, she was funny.”
The two became friends, training for races together for the next decade. But then Tracy Jo was plagued with abdominal bloating and back pain. Doctors were stumped, so they ordered a flurry of tests.
“She turned 40, so we threw her this huge birthday party, and a month later, they diagnosed her with ovarian cancer,” Salyers says with sadness still in her voice. “By the time they operated, it was already very advanced.”
Tracy Jo immediately started chemotherapy and radiation treatments, all the while maintaining her vivacity.
“During the first years of her treatments, she’d still come out to the track and train,” Salyers says. “She was truly relentless.”
One part of her illness, however, was especially hard for Tracy Jo to accept.
“She just couldn’t believe there are no early-detection tests for ovarian cancer, even though it’s a leading cancer in women,” Salyers says. “She didn’t want anyone else to go through what she was enduring.”
So Tracy Jo took a proactive approach, banding together with a group of friends to establish the Tracy Jo Wilson Cancer Foundation in 2003. From the start, the foundation’s primary focus was raising funds for research to find an early-detection method.
“Ovarian cancer is usually curable when it’s caught within the first stage, so finding a way to test for it was very important to Tracy Jo,” Salyers says.
Ultimately, Tracy Jo’s cancer was detected too late, and she passed away in 2004, but not before she had a profound impact on Salyers’ life.
“She was hands-down the most giving, caring and selfless person I’ve ever known,” she says. “She has given great meaning to my life.”
Today, Salyers serves as president of the foundation.
“Of course, she wanted to live, but I do think she took comfort in knowing that this would continue without her, and that we would fulfill her wish,” she says. “I think she’d be proud of us for doing this.”
Sherrie Shively also sits on the foundation’s board of directors and she was one of Tracy Jo’s friends. She agrees that in some way, the cancer foundation is Tracy Jo’s legacy in our neighborhood.
“We’re all very proud to be moving forward in her honor,” she says. “And the really good thing is that because we are a local, grassroots effort, we’re still able to have personal relationships with the people in our neighborhood. In fact, we rely heavily on the community because volunteers are at the heart of what we do.”
While the organization is still primarily dedicated to finding an early-detection test, the group also does community outreach, so it needs volunteers to man tables at health fairs, work in education programs, answer phones and even stuff envelopes — just to name a few tasks. But regardless of the activity,
“Ovarian cancer is one of the top causes of cancer deaths among women, but it doesn’t have to be. So basically, we’re working towards changing that.”
For information about the Tracy Jo Wilson Ovarian Cancer Foundation, or to become a volunteer, visit tjwocf.org or call 972-233-7591.
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