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From Soccer to Doctor

Addy Guida’s battle with cancer as a student-athlete inspired a new career path in medicine.

Business & Community  |  Oct 31, 2017  |  By Greg Lacour
woman with children

 

Medical student Addy Guida with children at the Agassi Boys & Girls Club. Engaging in community health outreach programs is an important part of the School of Medicine curriculum. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

 

One of the hardest parts, Addy Guida recalled, was lying in her bed at St. Rose Dominican Hospital-San Martin and having former co-workers come by during their rounds. Mere weeks before, she’d been one of them, a promising medical school candidate gaining experience as a physician’s documentation assistant. Now she was a patient enduring a grave illness — again — and having to answer their stunned question: “Oh, my God, Addy, what are you doing here?”

Guida, 23, made it through those frightening days last fall. And on July 17, though still weak and sick from her chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she joined the 59 other members of the inaugural class at the new UNLV School of Medicine. She’s concentrating on emergency medicine in part because the high energy, team unity, and fast pace reminds her of her days as a star midfielder for the Rebel women’s soccer team.

“I was born and raised here in Vegas, and when I was growing up, people were always talking about how there was going to be a med school in Vegas, but it always seemed like a pipe dream,” she said.

A couple months into her med school studies, she said she was “making a comeback.” Just like she’s done before. In January 2013, during her freshman year, Guida came down with what she thought was mononucleosis. Weak, fatigued — whatever it was just wouldn’t go away. Doctors told her she was at risk for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes.

“It was terrifying,” she said. “I was 19 years old, a college soccer player. I had never contemplated having a life-threatening illness. I thought my world was turning upside down.”

The rest of the semester, she was largely confined to her room in the Tonopah residence hall where she did her classwork as well and often as she could. As the months passed, she got better and thought, “OK, I’m over it. I’m ready to begin my life now.”

She changed her major to pre-med and plunged back into her studies, and soccer over the next three years. Through the athletic department and pre-med honor society, she volunteered in youth programs and helped run summer camps. As she neared her December 2016 graduation, Guida was working as a scribe at three Las Vegas-area hospitals. At work in the emergency department one day, she felt chest pains and had trouble breathing.

Guida’s stepmother, her primary care provider, discovered the source: a tumor in her chest roughly the size and shape of a small textbook.

The disease she’d feared the most three years before, the disease she thought had miraculously bypassed her, was now her reality. “My very first thought, especially since I was right in the middle of the med school application process, was, ‘How is this going to affect my career goals?’” she said. “My other concern was, ‘OK, so I’m not going to be a normal 22-year-old anymore. I’m going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life.’”

Doctors told her that she’d have to endure six months of hellish chemo and radiation but, barring something unforeseen, she was probably going to make a full recovery. “But it doesn’t matter what the doctor says at that point,” she said. “You hear ‘cancer’ and don’t really hear anything after that.”

Guida managed to graduate, despite missing three weeks of classes after her diagnosis. For months, life was a treadmill of treatment, sleep, and vomiting. The first scan to show her cancer was in remission came on March 8. She’ll have to get a scan every three months for the next year, then one every five years. Now, she’s savoring her life and nascent career in medicine, and her pride at being a member of the inaugural class.

All 60 UNLV School of Medicine students received full scholarships, thanks to the Engelstad Family Foundation and a number of individual donors. Guida’s came from the Alumni Association, which carries special meaning for her, coming from a family of Rebels.

  • Mother, Angela Branco, ’86 BS Accounting, ’05 Master of Education, co-owns SWF Construction in Henderson.
  • Stepfather, Anthony Branco, ’03 Master of Music, is a pianist and music teacher.
  • Older sister, Adrianna Guida, ’12 BS Hotel Administration, also played soccer for the Rebels and is now a first-year student at the William S. Boyd School of Law.

When Guida got her first degree in the midst of her lymphoma treatment, her mother fastened her own alumni pin to her daughter’s lapel. Guida keeps it attached to her medical school white coat.

“When I was awarded the scholarship, even though I didn’t personally know any of these (donors), it was like getting a donation from family — like these people are in my corner.”