WhatNexter of The Week - "Carool" A 20 Year Breast Cancer Survivor

by GregP_WN

Our WhatNexter of the Week is "Carool" she is a 20 year breast cancer survivor and a regular contributor to WhatNext. The following is her own cancer story in her own words. 

I’m Carool. I was born and remain in Brooklyn, NY. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on May 5, 1999. 

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Above: Carool at the opening of the Monmouth Museum Group Show

I found a lump in the upper part of my left breast in January of 1999, when I was 51. At first I thought it was nothing - and I’m someone who was, and remain, always filled with health anxiety! I saw the radiologist I’d been seeing, and disliking, for years (I disliked her manner). She felt the lump, gave me a mammogram and an ultrasound, and said, “It’s nothing. Come back in a year.” 

Fortunately, her report went to my then gynecologist, who called me and said that if I felt the lump and it hadn’t appeared on the sonogram, it probably wasn’t a cyst (sonograms pick up cysts), and I should go to another radiologist, preferably a radiology place where several doctors review the scans. So I did. She saved my life by suggesting that I see another radiologist, as I’d otherwise have followed the first radiologist’s opinion that I should come back in a year.

Anyway, I had breast cancer. After seeing the breast surgeon who had given me the needle biopsy that helped diagnose the lump, I sought a second opinion at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) (I didn’t like that breast surgeon and I wanted to be treated at MSK), and I ended up going to MSKCC, and I am forever glad I did. 

I loved my breast surgeon. I had a lumpectomy and a sentinel node biopsy (node was clear!). Diagnosed with Stage 1 triple-positive breast cancer. Because my tumor was HER2-positive, I had to have four rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan (but no Taxol, sparing me from possible neuropathy). 

At that time, MSKCC was giving Herceptin to only patients with metastatic breast cancer. After chemo I had 33 radiation treatments, then took Tamoxifen for 4.5 years, followed by 5.5 years of Femara. I was lucky in that I had few side effects from those.

When I was first diagnosed, I was very scared and sad. Immediately, I told everyone (my longtime boyfriend always says, “Is there anyone alive you haven’t told? LOL). In fact, when I told one neighbor whom I’d known for many years, she told me she’d had breast cancer. Later on, another neighbor, just diagnosed, told me she’d been misdiagnosed by the same radiologist who’d told me it was nothing, come back in a year.

My partner,friends, and my brother, all gave me tremendous support throughout the treatments. And I got wonderful support from the Adjuvant Treatment group offered by MSKCC. We’d meet there each weekday for an hour or hour and a half (can’t remember) and, guided by their two experienced licensed social workers, talk about whatever we wanted (mostly cancer-related, of course). It’s an invaluable service that they still have. I hope many other cancer hospitals offer this.

I am a visual artist (a painter and, now, also a Photoshop printmaker ). Chemo made me lose all my hair, and I always felt queasy, and everything tasted metallic. However, I was still able to go to my studio and work, socialize, and live pretty much as I’d had before my treatments. At that time I worked as a part-time secretary (Monday through Friday, 5 hours a day). It was a very non-corporate, nutsy office, so I would fling off my wig as soon as I entered and rock the baldeen look (a phrase I’ve been using now when talking about this episode in my life; back in 1999 no one used “rock” in that way).

Some of Carool's prints are shown below

Carool Developing Woman

I say to anyone recently diagnosed who faces having to have chemo: Chemo is not always terrible. It’s no fun, of course, and how one feels depends on so many factors, the kind(s) of chemo being foremost, but much of the time, the nausea and other side effects can be managed. Not trying to sugarcoat any of it, but trying to alleviate some of the fear. Of course, everyone’s body reacts differently from everyone else’s.

My emotions throughout the treatments, and for many years after, fluctuated: After my getting a Stage 1 dx. I felt hopeful; however, my tumor being HER2-positive scared me greatly. I’d be depressed, think I’d be dying in a few years. Then I’d talk myself out of the doom-and-gloom. Cycling through various feelings. I never felt angry or “Why me?” And I’m an atheist, so no seeking help in religion. We all, well, most of us, just forge ahead, hoping for the best. And preparing for the worst. 

Carool's Display In Monmouth

Above: Carool's collection of prints on display at the Monmouth Museum Group Show

I can never thank Memorial Sloan-Kettering enough for saving my life, and so many other lives. And I thank the cancer researchers and, yes, Big Pharm, for the drugs that enabled me and so many others to live after a cancer diagnosis. However, I do think this country needs, urgently, a far better healthcare system that would allow EVERYONE to get excellent medical treatment for any disease, no matter how little money one has. And now I’ll stop myself with the politics, because I could go on.

It’s been twenty years since my diagnosis. I still worry about a metastasis or getting a different cancer. I’m a worrier and, despite years of psychotherapy, haven’t ditched that tendency. Still, I’m lucky enough to be old now - a vibrant, involved, worried old - and for the time being, I’m okay. And I have a new love (well, not so new): Photoshop! My Website is www.carolradsprecher.com. And my cancer experience has affected my artwork, as it has affected every other part of my life. Most cancer survivors have “Before cancer” and “After cancer” demarcations in the stories of their lives. I have mine (and my diagnosis day, May 5, is Cinco de Mayo and my sixth-month anniversary is Guy Fawkes Day, November 5!!). Make of that what you will.

Carool Almost Free

“I found WhatNext on Facebook, maybe four years ago. At first I thought I might not be appropriate for WN, as it had been many years since my cancer diagnosis and treatments. I questioned Greg; he assured me that WhatNext would welcome me and my joining would be mutually beneficial. I am SO glad I joined! I’ve met many people here whom I consider to be friends and allies. I enjoy responding to other WhatNexters’ questions and getting their advice when I need help. Last year, I faced a brief mammogram scare and turned to WN. I got wonderful support!

I urge everyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer or whose loved one has been diagnosed, to join this inestimable cancer site.

Lastly, I send everyone reading this my fervent hope for you to have as comfortable a treatment as possible. I wish you healing, physically, mentally, emotionally, and a return to good health. Hugs from Brooklyn -

Editor's note: If you would like to share your inspiring cancer story, contact us. We will help you share it either by a blog post here, or by a series of videos which we can help you with. 

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