Carmen has a family history of cancer. Both her great grandmother and great aunt passed of breast cancer, and her grandmother, now at the age of 101, is a Survivor. Because of this family history, Carmen began annual mammograms at the age of 35.
In April of last year, at the age of 50, Carmen had her annual mammogram and received no red flags. Fast forward only four months later and she felt a lump in her right breast (a double whammy as this was the same day she lost her mother, who she was the primary caretaker). Over a period of several weeks and appointments for a follow-up mammogram, ultrasound and ultimately a biopsy, on October 1 Carmen was diagnosed with DCIS, grade 3, stage 0 breast cancer.
"This is the best-case scenario for breast cancer. Ductal carcinoma in situ, noninvasive, it is a near 100% survival rate and this is my blessing."
Carmen soon meets with a plastic surgeon to discuss lumpectomy and reconstruction options. However, after an MRI a few days later, she learns the cancer is multicentric and covering three quadrants of her breast much larger than expected and much more than the mammogram detected. Her breast cannot be saved, and in order to reduce her risk of future occurrence, Carmen decides to have a double mastectomy. Her surgery takes place in November.
"One of my hardest moments was having to attend a public event shortly after surgery with no tatas. Although I had no shame with my close friends and the circle that surrounded me, I was self-conscious of others noticing I had no chest. One of my closest friends was getting married in December and attendance was not optional. I found myself fearing the event and what to wear."
Carmen expressed her concern with a close friend who just so happened to be the Board Chair at
Carolina Breast Friends, Beth Harrelson. A prosthetic fitting was scheduled to prepare Carmen for her event.
"The gals at The Pink House were amazing and truly made me feel at home and as if we were lifelong friends. They helped me get fitted properly and try on my new accessory with the dress I was wearing to the wedding. Little did we know how important this night would be as my mother-in-law passed the same day as the wedding. The next week I left to attend the funeral and I was now to attend another big event with many people, and in-laws, not in my immediate circle...it was great to see people and have them not be able to tell that I had lost my breasts. Being able to attend these events without being self-conscious was super important to me. The Pink House made all the difference!"
The prosthesis fitting was one of many ways Carolina Breast Friends was able to meet Carmen's needs.
"When my surgery was scheduled I was given a wonderful comfort bag of goodies that I did not know I would need. You are never prepared for any cancer diagnosis, yet I felt the support of others from day one. I was given all kinds of advice I didn't know I would need. I had no idea pillows under my arms, button up shirts or PT to lift my arms over my head were all going to be critical components of my recovery. Thanks to all the wonderful ladies before me who made my journey just a little easier due to sharing their experiences."
*Pictured top left: Carmen and her husband at her friend's wedding; top right: Carmen and her grandmother, a Survivor; bottom right: Carmen with her comfort pillow