Tracee Guilford: Balancing Aggressive Treatment with Parenting Duties

Tracee drew strength from family and friends as she juggled cancer treatments and her children’s busy schedules.

I often tell people my son is my guardian angel, but he just doesn’t know it yet.

It was a normal August evening in our West Atlanta home. We had just returned from our daughter’s softball and son’s baseball practice. Our bellies were full, and we were all retiring upstairs for the night to prepare for school and work. I laid in my bed to get comfortable, and my 7-year-old son laid his head gently on my chest just as he normally does when he gets ready to drift off into a deep sleep. Suddenly, he attempted to sit up abruptly, using his elbow to push against my chest. When he pushed down, I felt pain in my left breast. This alerted me. The pain was so significant that it forced me to grab my breast and immediately self-examine. My husband suggested I make an appointment, but I could tell by his response he was convinced it was nothing.

My mind began to wander because of my dad’s family history with breast cancer. I continued to rub my breast, almost as if I was trying to tell myself it really wasn’t there. I scheduled my appointment for the next week, but my kids had a dentist’s appointment, too, so I had to reschedule. I had to wait two more weeks to see my doctor. My anxiety grew as the appointment drew closer.

“What about my kids? What about my husband? Will I die?” These were just a few of the heart-wrenching questions that crossed my mind when my breast surgeon told me I had breast cancer on September 30, 2016. Her exact words were, “You have invasive ductal carcinoma.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing a day before breast cancer awareness month began. The lump in my left breast, which was my primary concern, was determined to be a cyst. The 1.3 cm malignant tumor was unexpectedly found directly across from it in my right breast. It was all just so ironic.

I was at my office when my surgeon called me and, honestly, I couldn’t feel my entire being anymore when I heard the news. It was like I no longer existed for a moment. It didn’t matter that she said to me, “We caught it just in time.” I remember breaking down in the hallway of my office.

After about five minutes, my colleagues were able to break through my mental bubble and console me. I called my mom, and remember asking, “What’s going to happen to my kids?”

I prayed that my husband would beat me home that day, so I could feel his warm touch and hear his soothing voice say, “Everything is going to be fine, baby cakes, we’ll get through this.” I often felt as though my chest was caving in a little each day because I knew I had a big fight ahead. I knew it would be the fight of my life.

One of the first things I did after I heard the news was to write on my bathroom mirror with a tube of red lipstick, “Dear C, you will not win!” It was my daily reminder that I would fight this disease with every fiber of my being. I refused to let it win. I had seen this disease run rampant on my dad’s side of the family, and I was determined to put up a fight. Several breast biopsies confirmed that my tumor was triple-negative, and I immediately decided to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Tests also confirmed I was BRCA-positive. Many questioned my decision not to have a lumpectomy, but my mind was made up. I refused to live my life in fear with the thought of breast cancer returning. Therefore, on November 16, 2016, my breast tissue was removed.

The idea of having chemotherapy treatments was scary. I knew my aunts had braved the storm a couple of times, and that it was very challenging on their bodies. Both of my kids are young athletes, and I could not fathom missing their events. I contemplated not even doing chemo. However, after discussions with some of my good medical friends, I moved forward. I chose a more aggressive treatment plan because of the type of tumor I had and my family history.

I endured 20 weeks of doxorubicin and Taxol. Without my faith and family, I don’t know how I would have made it through. My kids’ athletic events actually kept me going throughout my chemo journey! The fight that I possessed to get up and continue going to their events was unreal to me. I was extremely nauseated, experienced bone pain, and lightheadedness, but pushed through. My loving husband, moms (all three of them), dad, in-laws, aunts, cousins, sisters, and friends kept me uplifted in prayer, and I felt them fighting with me! It brings me to tears just thinking of how much they all mean to me. My children don’t even realize the amount of strength they gave to me during this process. One day, I hope to share it with them both.

Having breast cancer has changed me forever. However, I can say, I am a breast cancer survivor. I never thought I would have to say those words. I also never thought I would be writing a story about my own personal breast cancer journey, but here I am. My God had other plans for me. Although it was a painful journey, I am grateful for the experience, I am hopeful for a cure, and I am and will always be blessed beyond measure. And as for my little guardian angel, Adrian, I am so thankful his divine intervention helped his mom live to see another day.

Whether you’re a patient, survivor, caregiver, or a loved one touched by cancer, your story can have an enormous impact. You can provide hope and inspiration to someone recently diagnosed with cancer or a patient undergoing therapy.

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