Public speaker, retired sales manager, wife, mother
ABOUT CAROL, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- I’m always up for a challenge.
- I feel like if there’s any little opening, any opportunity, something can be made from it.
- I was a software sales manager, and I had a great team of people working for me. Even though sales is a competitive field, we were like family.
My History With Breast Cancer
I’ve always been an extremely competitive person. My dad used to laugh about it; when I was in Camp Fire Girls, I sold the most candy. When I was in band, I sold the most magazines. I feel like if there’s any little opening, any opportunity, something can be made from it. Back in the ‘80s, I saw an opportunity and moved to California as a band director. I took a band that was really tiny and awful, and soon we were playing for President Bush. People started asking me to speak to other band directors, and then to high school students, about how to accomplish their goals. I did a lot of speaking up until 2004.
That’s when I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. I was with my husband when we found this bump in the middle of my chest. Within a week, it grew to the size of a golf ball. I did the whole thing: biopsy, surgery, chemo, radiation. That first diagnosis was overwhelming. You’re spinning, wondering, Oh my God, what am I going to do?
Shortly before Christmas 2004, the radiation oncologist called and asked me to come early for my treatment. My husband, Jerry, and I were scared as we waited to hear what she had to say. They had miscalculated my radiation for the first three doses and 75% of the alveoli in my lungs were destroyed. I ended up in the hospital. I could not even breathe. We had a ski trip planned and the doctors said to my husband, “There’s no way your wife is going skiing.” And Jerry said, “You don’t know my wife.” Lo and behold, I was on that trip, skiing, not one month later.
Recovering from my hospital stay and fighting my cancer was a challenge, but I’m always up for a challenge. After two years of treatment, my cancer was gone. So for 12 years, I focused on working and living my life.
Finding Out I Have MBC
2015 was my year. I was a software sales manager and I had a great team. Even though sales is a competitive field, we were like family.
Between working like crazy and flying to meet clients, Jerry and I were enjoying our time together. We welcomed a new grandson, and everyone was happy and healthy. Life couldn’t have been any better.
Jump to October, and things were suddenly changing. My mom fell and broke her shoulder. She and my dad were living alone and my dad had dementia. They moved into a nursing home, and I finally had a chance to go see them. During my visit, I noticed some pain in my right side. I thought it was from working out too much, so I decided to wait and bring it up at my annual physical in November. The doctor ordered an X-ray and a few days later called to say everything was awesome; my blood work was fantastic and my X-ray didn’t show any signs of a problem.
About a month goes by: I’m working 10- to 12-hour days, working out, traveling every single week. Everything was fine except this pain in my ribs. I finally had a CT scan done on December 11th to figure out what was going on, and the doctor called. I could tell by the sound of her voice that it was something awful. She started by telling me that I had broken ribs. Then she asked who my oncologist was. I froze. What did broken ribs have to do with my oncologist? She explained it looked like my breast cancer had spread to the bones. I ran upstairs to Jerry. We were stunned. I did everything I was supposed to do: yearly checks, working out, no drinking or smoking. No one warned us my cancer could spread.
Jerry held me tightly and we cried, angry and disappointed at the devastating news. Then, we calmed down. Both of us are business people, so we immediately got a plan of action. I called the oncologist’s office and was scheduled for a full body bone and CT scan, with a follow-up appointment with the oncologist. Jerry and I went to visit my family and friends for Christmas, but didn’t share the news until we knew more. We wanted to have a Christmas focused on my parents, not on my cancer. I was afraid that this would be one of our last Christmases all together.
I didn’t want my family thinking that way, but I did have those scary thoughts. It was devastating doing research into cancer and reading about life expectancy. You have to get yourself out of that and realize that you’re not a statistic. You decide how you’re going to handle what’s going on and live the best you can.
Once I made up my mind about that, I didn’t go back. I looked at this as one big challenge, and you know how I feel about challenges! The oncologist was very hopeful and said the next step was a bone biopsy so that she would know for sure how to treat the cancer. I continued to work all the way until the end of the year, but the pain in my ribs and back was getting very intense. I wanted relief.
Starting IBRANCE Treatment
Once the biopsy confirmed that my cancer was HR+/HER2-, and since I’m post-menopausal, my oncologist recommended IBRANCE. I went to IBRANCE.com where I found a lot of information. I read about the possible side effects and benefits—and talked about what I read with my doctor. After our discussion, we decided to move forward with the recommendation and I began IBRANCE in combination with an endocrine therapy.
I have experienced side effects, including low white blood cell count, but my oncologist thinks I’m doing pretty well. This is just how my treatment experience with IBRANCE has been—it could be different for you. Other patients might experience other common side effects including infections or fatigue.
If you haven’t figured it out, I am a bit of a control freak. There are only two types of strategies (offensive or defensive). I definitely prefer the offensive style. I’m determined to be strong and relentless in this battle with cancer.
I think people can be afraid to be in control; they’re afraid to be accountable, but you need to be accountable. I’m accountable for talking with my doctor just like she’s accountable for giving me the best guidance she can.
In January, Jerry and I had a decision to make about my work. I didn’t want to stop working. It’s so tied into my personal worth. But a really close friend of mine said to me, “When God closes a door, we try to reopen that door rather than moving on to the next one. Quit trying to reopen that door!” At that moment, I knew I would be okay with the decision to retire.
I am no longer chasing the next deal to close; I am living the life of a person with metastatic breast cancer. That means I am focused on getting proper sleep, exercising when I feel up to it, eating healthier, and truly living—not just existing. My family and friends have been a blessing with their prayers. My diagnosis affects them too, and they need to help me as much as I need their help. They’ve offered me their support, and Jerry has been there holding my hand through it all.
I used to tell my high school students, “Life gives you choices, not chances. It’s the choices you make today that determine your destiny.” I have come to realize that the difference in success or failure is choice. When adversity strikes, it's not what happens that will determine my destiny; it's how I react to what happens.