Breast Cancer Survivor Stories
Taking an active role in fighting her breast cancer
Carla Vercoe is all about wellness. She maintains a vegan, all-organic diet and is not overweight. She owns her own Pilates studio, Studio BE in Fairfax Corner, which she operates with wellness in mind as well. So she was shocked when she learned of her breast cancer diagnosis. “I just didn’t think of myself as a likely candidate. I certainly didn’t want to be a bald, sickly person and decided to find alternative ways of treatment.
“When you get that call your whole world shuts down. It’s the worst news you could get and I was so scared. Most people just go to the doctor and follow the doctor’s recommendations, but I want people to know that it’s OK to say ‘no’ to the doctor. You need to be aggressive and proactive. Because of my concerns for wellness, I didn’t want chemotherapy that is normally prescribed for my situation. That meant I had to do a lot of research myself” which took a couple of months. Vercoe found a top integrative cancer doctor in Florida who was happy to use a different process called IPT, or Insulin Potentiation Therapy. Using that meant she received only about 10% of a standard chemotherapy treatment.
Unfortunately her treatment, while effective, is not FDA-approved so she has had to bear significant costs of up to $40,000, most of which are not likely to be covered. A friend raised around $20,000 through a GoFundMe campaign but the personal costs are staggering. However it was important to Vercoe to be able to tell the doctor “what I would or wouldn’t do.”
Vercoe reports that it has been tough and frustrating, but after 20 weeks of treatments, “it’s amazing how your mind adjusts. I say to myself, ‘this is it, this is good’ and I don’t get upset anymore. I’m as positive as I can be.” She and a friend ran a women’s retreat in Mexico in the spring that became a healing experience for her as well as everyone else.
In general she finds that just sharing her story with others garners “so much support. I’ve reached this point with the love and support of others. I’ve heard others say that once they were diagnosed with breast cancer, they just stayed home a lot. If you isolate yourself, you become more depressed.
“It was important to me to keep exercising and keep working and regain a positive attitude. And because I started feeling better mentally, I think I started feeling better physically.”
For even more ideas in living with and treating breast cancer, Vercoe recommends a website called ChrisBeatsCancer.com that gives folks a great list of questions to ask your doctor if you are in this situation. She will be featured in a breast cancer documentary on Conscious Living TV following her mastectomy which took place in August. The filmmakers have followed her through the entire journey because of her proactive approach.
As for the future, Vercoe says, “It could come back, but why worry? I will continue to be proactive but I want to think of it as a little fluke of nature that is now gone.”
Living in the moment
Mickey Sanborn doesn’t spend time worrying about the future. When she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2005, her matter-of-fact reaction was that there would be a way to beat it. The cancer never slowed her down nor kept her from doing everything she wanted.
Oh, she went through standard treatments of chemotherapy and later radiation, but never had extremely adverse reactions. After the treatments, her tests were clean for a couple of years, but in 2008, the breast cancer returned in her liver and lungs. (When the cancer metastasizes it remains breast cancer even in other organs.) More treatments. Another time a surgeon noticed that her throat was enlarged and, upon further testing, identified thyroid cancer.
“These diagnoses keep coming up,” Sanborn smiles, “but I’m still here. I’m lucky to be living in a time and a place where they are implementing advanced treatments and they keep pulling stuff out of their hats.” In fact she is about to begin her third clinical trial and mentioned her bone scan Wednesday, CT scan Thursday, heart scan Friday, and so on as if they were trips to the store. For Sanborn, dealing with breast cancer is “just a part of my life.” She simply doesn’t allow it to affect her negatively. Using a common metaphor, Sanborn never sees the glass as half-empty. It’s half-full and it’s a drink to enjoy while you have it.
“I have always tried to live in the moment,” says Sanborn. “I may plan ahead some, for a trip or something, but I don’t spend time worrying about what the future may bring.” Growing up in Louisiana, she attended Louisiana Tech, majoring in journalism. Her early career included photo work with a local newspaper, later the Orlando Sentinel, but ultimately – being in the right place at the right time – she fell into a photographer position with the Air Force and the Pentagon – something of a dream job allowing her to travel and take photos. Her advice to those looking for a job is that “if you don’t have anything and a job is available, take it. You have no idea what it will lead to.”
Sanborn also has thoughts for those facing a diagnosis of breast cancer. “It is not a death sentence,” she offers. “There are so many new developments coming out all the time that the future can be positive. Continue to do what you enjoy doing. Make sure you have a good doctor, that’s important. If you’re wondering about a doctor, ask the nurses. They will tell you anything you need to know. Also you should find a nurse you like and get the same nurse every time.”
Sanborn was lucky not to experience feelings of depression or isolation as many breast cancer patients have reported. With her sunny outlook, that is not surprising. Physically she has generally felt fine and she has good friends who have always supported her. She stays active, enjoys her neighbors, and participates in local activities.
Perhaps her most important observation is that having breast cancer changed her perspective on the rest of her life. Issues that may have bothered her at one time do not impact her so much, further underscoring the philosophy that it is best to live life to the fullest.