I often tell people my son is my guardian angel but he just doesn’t know it yet. One day when he is older, I will sit down and share with him the story of how he helped save his mommy’s life. 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 right breast. This alerted me. The pain was so significant that it forced me to grab my breast and immediately self-examine. I looked over at my husband and said, “hmmmm that’s weird.”
“I feel a pretty large lump in my breast.” He casually said, “Well baby, make an appointment and have the doctor check it out.” I could tell by his response that he was convinced it was nothing.
However, my mind began to wonder 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. Somehow I wanted to believe that I was overreacting and it was all in my head. Eventually, I just told myself I was going to say a prayer and call my doctor in the morning to schedule an appointment. The next morning, I called my doctor’s office and told them I wanted to schedule an appointment for my primary care to check my breasts. I scheduled my appointment for the next week but my kids had a dentist appointment too, so I had to reschedule. When I rescheduled, I had to wait 2 more weeks to see my doctor. By this time, my nerves were getting bad and my mind was beginning to wonder.
It was almost as if something or someone was trying to interfere with my sense of urgency to get to my much needed appointment. “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 said to me on September 30, 2016, “You have Breast Cancer.” 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. It was all just so ironic to me.
In fact, I think I went into shock for a moment because I remember getting extremely weak and feeling like everything became a blur. 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.
A young lady from the office across the hall along with some of my colleagues flooded into the hallway to console me. I couldn’t talk because I was crying so uncontrollably. It felt like my world was closing in on me. I felt like I was in a bubble and everyone was trying to reach for me but the bubble had me isolated from the world. It was a very strange feeling.
After about 5 minutes, my colleagues were able to break through my mental bubble and console me, so I could walk back into the office to try and calm down.
The first person I called was my mom.
I remember saying, “mom, what’s going to happen to my kids?” She had no clue what I was talking about. She just kept saying:
”Calm down Tracee.” “
What’s going on?” Calm down.
I told her, “I have breast cancer.”
“What did they say, Tracee? What did they say?”
While I was on the phone with her, my colleagues called my husband to tell him that he needed to get home right away. They told him I had received some very bad news. Meanwhile, I was balling my eyes out sharing the news with my mom. Telling her my breast surgeon’s exact words. She asked me if someone could drive me home but I was so zoned out that I could hear her talking to me but couldn’t take direction.
I was too distraught.
I remember being able to tell her one of my colleagues offered to drive me home. I also remember the receptionist saying to me, “God has the final say about this Tracee.”
“We will not speak this upon you.” She spoke to me with such spiritual guidance.
It began to soothe me and bring me to a more peaceful place.
After I cried, cried, and cried some more, I was able to refocus so I could drive myself home.
It seemed like the longest drive ever. So many things went through my head. I prayed that my husband would beat me home, so I could feel his warm touch and hear his soothing voice say, “Everything is going to be fine, baby cakes.”
There is something about being held by your other half during such a difficult time and hearing the words “we will get through this.” They are words that you long to hear every moment of every day so that you can cope, so that you can somewhat breathe easier. I often felt as though my chest was caving in a little each day because I knew I had a big fight ahead. It felt as if it took a little more effort for me to breathe.
I knew it would be the fight of my life. My mind wandered continuously with many what ifs, but I had to try to maintain my sanity for my family. 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. Over the course of a couple of months, I went through several breast biopsies to confirm the breast cancer diagnosis, and I immediately decided to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. 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 the breast cancer returning. Therefore, on November 16, 2016, my breast tissue was removed. The idea of having chemotherapy treatments was extremely scary to me. I knew my aunts had braved the storm a couple of times, but the horror stories associated with chemo, absolutely terrified me. Constantly being sick, losing my hair, and not being able to function for my family were thoughts that were ripping me apart. Both of my kids are young athletes, and I could not fathom missing their events because of chemo. I contemplated not even doing chemo.
However, after discussions with some of my good medical friends, I moved forward with chemo. I chose a more aggressive treatment plan because of the type of tumor I had and my family history. I endured 20 weeks of “the red devil” and Taxol. I have to say without my faith and family, I don’t know how I would have made it through. I dreaded Thursdays because those were my scheduled treatment days. The irony of it all is that my kid’s 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. Fruit and lemon gum were also a saving grace for me during treatments. I took fruit bowls and lemon gum with me to every treatment. Both eliminated unwarranted tastes and kept me relaxed. Last but not least, my family was my rock throughout this journey. My loving husband, mom, dad, in-laws, aunts, cousins, sisters, and friends kept me uplifted in prayer, and I felt them fighting with me! I can’t say enough about them and their loving support. 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. Although I’ve beat breast cancer, I struggle with the emotional side effects of the disease and the fear of it returning one day. Now, when I go to the doctor, my heart races, blood pressure rises, and my mind wonders. I’m convinced I will never be the same person again.
Having breast cancer has changed me forever. However, I can say, I am a breast cancer survivor. I never thought I would ever 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 measures.