When Carrie Chapman, of Canton, found out she had breast cancer in April 2022, she made a point not to let the cancer define her.
“I have to think most people who learn that they have cancer react similarly – shock, tears, fear, feelings of why me,” said Carrie. “But, after the initial diagnosis, I believe you have a choice to make and I chose to focus on the things in my life that I could control, and not the things I could not.”
At her first appointment, Carrie asked her nurse for advice on what made patients most successful with treatment.
“She said the patients who fared best were those with a positive attitude and a strong support system – so I made sure that was a big focus during the course of my treatment.”
Carrie’s treatment plan would include chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, radiation and immunotherapy. She completed her treatment in May 2023.
“My experience with the Northside staff, and particularly Georgia Cancer Specialists was wonderful. I never felt rushed when I met with them and they answered any questions or concerns I had,” said Carrie.
“I just adored the nurses in the treatment room. They were amazing. Always a kind word and a smile – even under those masks you could see it in their eyes.”
As for her support team, Carrie felt “over-loved” by the outpouring of support and care she received from her family, friends, coworkers and neighbors throughout her treatment.
Her husband, Tim, took care of her and helped with whatever she needed.
“Whether it was dinner, cleaning, bringing me ginger ale or meds, he was there for me, and I will be forever grateful.”
She kept up with her Saturday morning run group. Although most days she had to walk because of fatigue. Her friends walked with her for moral support.
She continued with her book club and work activities.
Carrie also created a little support group of friends who had breast cancer diagnoses around the same time. They recently met for dinner to celebrate the end of their respective treatments.
“I liked to stay as busy as I could,” said Carrie.
“The thing I’d like to emphasize to anyone who’s newly diagnosed with cancer or going through cancer treatment is that you can do hard things. You can continue on with your life, and don’t be afraid to push yourself (with your health care provider’s blessing of course) to focus on things other than the fact that you have cancer.”
Carrie’s mantra of perseverance has continued into her recovery.
Shortly after she finished her last chemotherapy treatment, a friend mentioned she wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. They spoke with others who had made the trek and Carrie thought it sounded “manageable.”
“I cleared the trip with my oncologist and my cardiologist and then booked the trip.”
On July 4, 2023, Carrie and her group began their hike at the Rongai Gate of Kilimanjaro National Park, about 7,750 feet above sea level.
“This trip was important to me to prove that cancer had not beaten me — I had beaten cancer. I wanted to show the world – and inspire others – that even after a cancer diagnosis you can climb mountains. To me, this trip was all about HOPE.
“We trekked up the mountain for four days, sleeping in tents, and getting colder and colder as we gained elevation. There was a lot of time for introspection on the trip and sometimes I questioned myself. Why did I go halfway around the world to freeze in a tent, sleep on rocks and hike to exhaustion each day? And the answer was always ‘because I can.’”
The final climb to the summit was overnight.
“It was the hardest part of the entire trip — we were tired from lack of sleep, faced freezing temperatures (in the teens), had a hard time breathing due to the elevation, and struggled to get our footing in the soft, sandy terrain.
“Around 6:30 a.m., the sun began to rise. We could see the world around us and our spirits began to lift. We reached Gilman’s Point (18,652 feet above sea level) around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 8, and I ugly cried when I stepped onto the summit platform. All the hard work, effort and patience had paid off. One of the hardest things I had ever done was now complete.
“Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro was one of the most amazing accomplishments of my life. It was a celebration of the end of my 12 months of cancer treatment. And it was a celebration, of not only reaching the top of the mountain but also coming down the other side (both literally and figuratively) a stronger, more accomplished person.
“I had hope. I have hope. I will have hope.”
* The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50% five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.