Scripted in simple black ink, "Janice" carries a deeper meaning, one that reminds Guyton of his mother's triumphant battle with breast cancer. Janice, who celebrated her 50th birthday two weeks ago, has inspired Guyton with the way she so vivaciously forged through her daily activities despite enduring rounds of chemotherapy and massive lifestyle changes.
"Actually seeing her change, her body change, it's really a frightening feeling to know that your mother is really going through this," said Guyton, who is in his third season as a linebacker for the New England Patriots. "Nobody wants to see their mother in a bad situation or going through something like that."
Janice Guyton was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, during Gary's senior year at Bradwell Institute High School in Hinesville, Ga. Gary, who was 17 at the time, basically saw his life flip upside down, but he credited his mother's positive outlook toward his own ability to stay sane throughout the ordeal.
Janice sat her son down at home and explained how life would change. She'd go through chemo, lose her hair and have some pretty bad days. But they would stay close as a family — Gary's father, Gary Sr., is now 53 years old, and his brother, Terrence, is 32 — and got through it together. Somehow, Janice never faltered from her game plan.
"I never saw her down about it," Guyton said. "I just saw the effects of what happened, but my mother is a strong woman. I really appreciate that about her, not letting it get to her in a big way. She still had a smile on her face, walked around with her head held up high and taking the challenge on face-to-face.
"Actually seeing her smile was something good for me. It kind of made light of the situation. She's a high-spirited person, always positive about life, and that was something great. I just took that, and we definitely fed off each other in that way."
Guyton would often accompany his mother on her routine visits to Saint Joseph's Candler Hospital in Savannah, Ga., which was roughly an hour northeast of Hinesville. He said he would wait around for her and worry, like any son would do.
But eventually, Janice's health progressed, and her last scheduled round of chemo cleared out the cancer, ending a tough chapter in the Guyton household.
"It was a relief," said an emotional Guyton, whose genuine smile broke free as he told the story from his locker at Gillette Stadium. "It was like a battle won. That’s my mother. I love my mother dearly. I love her to death. Everybody loves their mother. I love her. I love her. I love her."
Janice was cancer free in 2004 before Gary set off for a four-year career at Georgia Tech, a program he had his sights set on since he began playing the game. While Guyton was going through the recruitment process, his mother told him not to worry about the four-hour drive between his college campus and home in Hinesville, as her continuous optimism about her situation still shined through the cold reality of the disease.
Since then, Guyton has done his part to raise cancer awareness, whether it's through charity work, fundraising or taking an active role in the NFL's effort to increase breast cancer awareness. Guyton wore pink cleats and gloves last October during a game against the Baltimore Ravens, and he'll do his part during the Patriots' season-long "Kick Cancer" initiative.
"Every day, somebody gets diagnosed with cancer," Guyton said. "It's a real situation, so anything I can do to help, I want to do it."
Yet, the members of the Guyton family are still battling through the disease on their home front. Guyton's father, Gary Sr., was diagnosed with colon cancer, although he has undergone robotic surgery and will be in the recovery stages for the better part of a year.
Guyton said his father was fortunate, in that doctors found it really early and were able to quickly remove it. Still, it was just the latest shock to the center of their family roots.
"Yeah, it was like, 'Wow,'" Guyton said. "But it was the same situation: 'We have this. What can we do? What's the next step?' And that’s the way that we handled it."
It's just that same familial strength that can be traced back to Janice's fight, and it's given that family more character and more fortitude than they ever could have bargained for.
Guyton, 24, talks to his mother three to four times every week, and he tries to fly his family out to as many games as possible. That’s his rock, and the woman behind his soul.
Guyton's tattoo reinforces so many beliefs. Things can always be worse. And they can always be better. Yet, no matter what he is fighting through, Guyton has seen the truest way for anyone to handle himself in the face of adversity.
It reads, "Janice." For Gary Guyton, it means more than anything.
"If my mother can go through cancer and a bad situation and still be positive, I know I can do the same thing when I have a situation," Guyton said. "Definitely an inspiration, a strong woman, and I appreciate that. There are plenty of ways she could have gone. She could have crumbled, but she didn’t. So I really appreciate that, and I know that tomorrow brings a better day."
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