Hard-fought victory for Nashua resident
Two months after completing chemotherapy, in October 2003, Carolyn Choate and her family celebrated with a trip to the Grand Canyon. With her are, from left, daughters Mackenzie and Sydney and husband Gordon Jackson.
Carolyn Choate of Nashua visits Dr. Angela Brodie at the University of Maryland last month. Brodie is the inventor of the drug letrozole, which enabled Choate to recover from Stage III estrogen-positive breast cancer.GORDON JACKSON
The news that she had Stage III estrogen-positive breast cancer, an aggressive cancer with an average survival rate of about three years, was terrifying and heartbreaking.
But cancer would not be the biggest change in her life, and the day she was diagnosed would not be her defining moment.
That, Choate said, was the major victory in her fight against cancer, which has since reached the 11-year mark. It was proof that she was a worthy opponent for the disease. Cancer was unfair, a lousy luck of the draw, but she had not let it call all the shots.
The turning point, Choate said, came when she accepted cancer as part of a new reality and understood it was up to her to become a survivor instead of a victim.
"I've always said cancer is the exclusive club you don't want to belong to," said Choate, who today, along with 14 million like her, is celebrating National Cancer Survivors Day.
Choate credits her oncology team and scientific research for giving her the treatment and medications she needed to survive. It's a generous attitude, considering her cancer experience has included a faulty mammogram, painful treatments that sometimes bordered on barbaric, and stark, albeit apologetic, initial diagnoses that left little room for hope.
It was through Rao that she learned about new treatments such as letrozole, which stops the body's production of estrogen, the hormone that was fueling her cancer.
They weren't the best odds, but Choate ran with them. And the drug worked.
"I don't know where it came from, but from the start I had this feeling of confidence that we would overcome this," said Choate's husband, Gordon Jackson. "Knowing her, I knew our chances of getting through this were good."
"I don't know anyone else like her," Sydney said. "I've never seen anyone fight so hard and be so proactive."
"We used to joke that since she had one breast removed, she could get a part-time job at Hooters," Sydney said, laughing at the memory.
While her family was the center of her support system, Choate also received encouragement and kindness from Channel 13 viewers, neighbors and friends.
Throughout her treatment, Choate never stopped working, continuing to appear on local news broadcasts. After losing her hair during chemotherapy, she initially wore a wig while she was on the air but found it hot and itchy. One night, while covering local election results, she decided to replace the wig with a baseball cap.
"I got about 300 cards and letters during the first week after that," Choate recalled. "People stopped me everywhere I went to wish me well."
Choate originally was prescribed a five-year course of letrozole, but as time passed and it became clear that the medication was doing its job, she decided to remain on the medication. She also became determined to express her thanks to its creator."I started realizing I've given 10 years of my life to this drug, and I would like to meet the person who invented it," she said. "It was like an organ recipient who wants to meet the family of a donor that saved their life."
"It was an incredible experience, not just for Carolyn but for Dr. Brodie's research team," said Jackson. "They were used to seeing their work with cancer as little cells they were pushing around on a Petri dish, and all of a sudden they had a living, breathing survivor right in front of them."
And she wouldn't have it any other way.
"This life of mine - this is who I am, and I love it," she said. "It really is a great adventure."
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