When Tracey Baptise was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38, her first thought was, “I’m never going to make it to 40.”
After Tracey had experienced a clogged milk duct while breastfeeding her son, Adam, a few years prior, her doctor recommended she start screening. In 2011—at her second-ever mammogram—doctors found what they thought was a cyst. When it wouldn’t drain, they tested it, and that’s when her diagnosis was made official.
“It took a really long time for it to sink in that yes, I had cancer,” she said.
She was daunted that she had to start telling her loved ones about her diagnosis.
Tracey began with her husband, Darryl, who is generally calm and level-headed, and he immediately set out to find out as much information as possible and figure out the next steps. To tell her mom, who lives in Trinidad, Tracey had to break the news over the phone.
“She started screaming and crying, so I had to get off the phone with her,” Tracey said.
Outside of a close circle of friends, Tracey and Darryl decided not to tell many more people.
“I was just dealing with myself and making sure that I was OK and healing [and] not having to answer questions from everyone else or perform for other people,” she said.
Nobody in Tracey’s life had had breast cancer before, and she thought her diagnosis was a death sentence. She was diagnosed with stage 1 HER2-positive breast cancer, which has targeted therapies and often good outcomes.
At the time of her diagnosis, Tracey was told she had two treatment options. She could have surgery to remove the tumor and then radiation, or have surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. There was no clear-cut guideline on what her next steps should be.
She opted to do chemotherapy but wanted to wait to start it until the summer when she could send her kids to Trinidad to live with her mom. While her kids were still home and in school that spring, she had surgery and radiation. The day after school closed in June, she took her kids to Trinidad, and three days after she got back home, she started a months-long stretch of chemotherapy.
“By the time my kids returned, I was already a month and a half into chemo,” she said. “I had already lost my hair. My mother tried to prepare them for coming back—that mommy wasn’t feeling well.”
Breast cancer made Tracey want to attack life with more fervor—and it pushed her to pursue creative writing full-time.
When she was diagnosed, Tracey was working in educational publishing and as a freelance editor, and she had published a few books over the years. It wasn’t easy to leave the stability of a permanent job, but after cancer, she felt more ready to take the leap.
She doesn’t think it was something she would have done before her diagnosis.
“I decided that this was a priority and that I could make a living from it. And then I did,” she said.
In the years since, she has become a New York Times bestselling author of numerous, acclaimed children’s and young adult novels and joined the creative writing faculty at Lesley University.
She credits research for making her feel comfortable and confident in the decisions she chose for herself during treatment, and she continues to keep up with the latest science.
“I would find research papers and email them to my oncologist, and we would talk about them when I went into my appointments. Research was very, very grounding for me,” she said. “It validated the decision I made when no one was quite sure what the right thing was [in terms of treatment]. It’s been great for me to see that we did absolutely everything we could, and we made good decisions.”
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