Bea Carlson

At the age of 43, after attending her routine mammogram, Bea learned she had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)—the most common form of noninvasive breast cancer. There was no lump. No family history of breast cancer. Her scheduled mammogram was the only avenue that allowed her to learn of her diagnosis. Although she knew it was noninvasive, that detail did not change the overwhelming emotions she felt upon hearing the news.

She recalls her initial thoughts, “I only knew my dad’s story who had died of lung cancer, which is where my head directly went. I thought all cancer was a death sentence.”  Bea also learned that a diagnosis of DCIS increases the likelihood of patients developing invasive breast cancer in their future. Her next steps were a lumpectomy, radiation and long-term medication. As she planned for the fight ahead, she was not sure who she could talk to or who would understand her situation.

Bea knew she needed to learn how to adjust to her life with cancer as well as how to cope with the emotions that came with her diagnosis. Along with taking care of her daughter, going through a painful divorce and keeping up with her work schedule, she now had to factor in her treatment regimen. Although she attempted to work part time, the physical exhaustion that resulted from her radiation sessions five times a week made it difficult. While she wanted to keep up with all of the different aspects in her life, the pressure caught up with her as she realized she needed to step back and take care of herself psychologically. She took the initiative in seeking out a therapist with whom she could openly communicate. Having this outlet gave her the strength she needed as she began building her support team.

During a session with her therapist, Bea received a calendar from the Cancer Support Community affiliate in Sarasota, Florida (formerly The Wellness Community) that included activities and services for people living with cancer. Together they believed that being a part of this organization would be a beneficial experience for her throughout her cancer journey. She visited the Cancer Support Community (CSC) Florida Suncoast and learned about the wide array of free services they offered. Their resource library equipped her with relevant information about the various aspects of living with cancer. Nutrition classes gave her a new outlook on eating healthy, allowing her to reevaluate that important part of her life. CSC Florida Suncoast also offers free exercise classes, including yoga and Tai Chi, emotional support including therapy and support groups as well as workshops on many topics that individuals living with cancer face.

Reflecting on her time at CSC, Bea says, “I think it’s important that you’re surrounded by people who are in similar situations and people you can relate to. I’m more quiet and reserved, it made me feel as though it was ok to talk about it and not have to keep it bottled inside anymore. The nutrition classes were great, I learned a lot about food that I never thought about before, it was a really good experience”.

In general, this positive atmosphere gave her the opportunity to share her story and empathize with others who went through similar situations. No longer did she have to worry about other’s reaction to her diagnosis or feel as if she could only discuss the matter with certain individuals. At the Cancer Support Community, she could talk about her problems and frustrations with people that she could relate to. Through having this new addition to her support team, she was able to cope with her emotions and manage the stress in her life. Her experience strengthened her livelihood as well as her connections to other members of her support team, including her daughter and family members. Overall, it gave her a chance to relax, open up and realize she was not alone.

Inspired by her cancer diagnosis and her time at CSC, Bea is attending nursing school in the fall to follow her new found passion for health and nursing. She also plans to attend volunteer training with CSC this December, to give back to the organization that helped her through her cancer journey. As an educated and empowered breast cancer survivor, she is finding different ways to share her knowledge and experience for the benefit of others, and could not be more excited about it, “Now, I feel like I’m looking from the outside in.” 

Bea is excited about the future ahead. She’s looking forward to ending her treatment and incorporating wellness tools she’s learned into her life, including exercise and relaxation. She’s also excited about starting her new career as a nurse and spending time with her beloved daughter. Bea is taking the lessons she learned from her fight against breast cancer, and using them to empower others facing their own diagnosis. Wanting to contribute her knowledge, she joined The Breast Cancer M.A.P. (Mind Affects Physical) Project. “I wanted to contribute back to society, I thought that this initiative was a great way to tell my story and help others.”  Bea joined the M.A.P. Project to help make a difference for the millions of women who are affected by the disease.

The M.A.P. Project is a movement to identify and address the emotional and social needs that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis.  By joining this first-of-its-kind registry and sharing their breast cancer experience, women have a unique opportunity to help researchers better understand the full impact of breast cancer and ultimately discover innovative ways to improve the cancer journey for millions.  Initiated by the Cancer Support Community’s Cancer Survivorship Research and Training Institute, the M.A.P. Project is made possible through a generous grant from The Breast Cancer Fund of National Philanthropic Trust.  For more information or to join the movement, visit www.breastcancerregistry.org.

To learn more about the Cancer Support Community Suncoast, visit their website www.cancersupportsuncoast.org.

To find a Cancer Support Community Affiliate near you, visit: www.cancersupportcommunity.org/FindaCommunity

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