Carole was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma (the most common type of breast cancer) in January 2014 at Breastlink Temecula Valley.
The Steely Resolve of a Survivor | Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma
Carole Conrad isn’t one to mope. She doesn’t like whining and refuses to feel sorry for herself. That steely resolve is evident by her life’s choices.
At 20, she packed it all up, leaving behind England and joining her sister in California. Yet, when Carole landed a job in Spokane, Wash, even though she did not know a soul in the state, she did not hesitate to move.
Years later when her husband was serving in Vietnam, even during those long letter-less lapses when she was not sure if he was dead, alive or imprisoned, Carole trudged on, working and living her life.
And when breast cancer came along, she did not let the disease bend her strong backbone.
“I think, why whine about what’s wrong with me? If I get a few hot flashes, it’s nothing compared to what other people are going through,” she says with her trademark British lilt and a no-nonsense twinkle in her friendly eyes.
With a family history of the disease — Carole’s sister, mother and maternal aunt, all suffered from it — breast cancer was not unknown territory to the British transplant.
“When you’re young and you have children you’re thinking about it all the time,” she said.
As she aged breast cancer free, she figured maybe she had lucked out.
“With my history, I thought, maybe I’d missed the bullet, but I hadn’t,” she said.
On January 8, 2014, after a routine mammogram, Dr. Amy Bremner diagnosed Carole with infiltrating ductal carcinoma, the most common breast cancer.
As a practical, levelheaded woman who manages to maintain an even-keel, the now 70-year-old said she was surprised when she broke down and cried after receiving the news.
“There’s so much coming at you at the same time. At the very beginning your mind is at all different directions. (You ask yourself) ‘Am I gonna die from this in the next five years? Have I got everything done that I need to get done? Have I been on enough trips?’,” she said.
The Volunteer Becomes a Patient
Carole dealt with the pain of cancer vicariously from witnessing the ravages of the disease on her family members, and as a volunteer at various nonprofits, including the American Cancer Society, Hospice and now Michelle’s Place. She had never felt that pain personally and she was surprised by how it took control of her physical and mental capacities.
“I was still in an emotional state,” she says. “Now that I’ve been in it I understand girls going through it at Michelle’s Place.”
Carole, who has volunteered at Michelle’s Place for nearly 10 years, interacts with cancer patients and survivors from all walks of life at the Temecula-based nonprofit breast cancer resource center.
Cancer Treatment: A Revolution
Carole remembers what her sister’s mastectomy looked like. Since having breast cancer 35 years ago, she has had three bouts of reconstructive surgeries. Her mother’s breasts were just “butchered” during her 1972 surgery, says Carole.
At that time the motive was to remove the cancer and little thought was put into how the breasts would look postoperative.
Today it’s a different world for breast cancer patients. Carole, who had Intraoperative Radiation Therapy, or IORT, which delivers a concentrated dose of radiation therapy to the tumor bed during surgery, explained that you can barely even tell she had a lumpectomy and radiation therapy.
And it’s not just the treatment that has changed, so has the attitude. When her mother and sister had breast cancer in the 1970s nobody spoke those two words. These days, there are walks, nonprofits, charity events and health fairs, where the words breast cancer are on the tips of everyone’s tongues.
Carole volunteers at these health fairs, reminding younger women to check their breasts.
From Spokane with Love
Not long after settling in Spokane, Wash., a co-worker of Carole’s decided to introduce the young Brit to her daughter and some friends who attended Gonzaga University. At 20 years old she met Monty and the two immediately hit it off. They recently celebrated their 50-year anniversary. Sadly, the woman who introduced Monty to Carole ended up dying of breast cancer.
The shores of California beckoned and Carole and Monty soon returned to Southern California, eventually settling in the Temecula Valley and raising a son. They are now grandparents to a 12-year-old boy.
After her diagnosis, Carole decided to be a part of the IORT clinical trial. Her February 10, 2013 surgery went smoothly and she didn’t have to do chemotherapy. These days she’s on Letrozole and her hot flashes often keep her up at night. Letrozole, like all medications has side effects but if you dwell on them, your brain will literally start manifesting symptoms, Carole explained.
When the reality sets in many breast cancer patients will head to their computer. They may Google the words and read whatever pops up under the search box. Don’t do that, advises Carole.
Education is key, yet be careful. There is a lot of misinformation out there, so make sure the source is a reliable one. Carole recommends going to the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Association and when researching a certain drug, visit the specific pharmaceutical company’s website. Bring someone along to your appointments, because a second set of ears is invaluable.
Also, don’t dwell on it or pour over negative material.
“I can understand how they got so emotional over it but I don’t have a lot of patience for people that just whine about it and just keep on about it. Look, put your lipstick on and move on because if you don’t it will just completely take over your life and you don’t want to have your life taken over by cancer.”
Carole and her husband are definitely moving on. The two retirees recently set off on a long-planned road trip to Alaska with her brother and his wife. The four will spend their summer vacation in a log cabin, salmon and halibut fishing and seeing the beauty of our Last Frontier.
They’ll return home for a month and then it’s off to Morro Bay for two months and later a jaunt up Highway 1 with their Corvette cruising crew.
It’s safe to say there won’t be any whining or talk of cancer during these once-in-lifetime adventures.