Park City woman discusses her journey with breast cancer
Friends and family rallied around Christy Carter
Park City life coach and family mediator Christy Carter is a breast cancer survivor.
And if there is anything she wants to relay during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s her advice “to prepare for the worst, but plan for the best.”
“When I was first diagnosed in 2015, I went on a bike ride and, although I didn’t plan it, I ended up at the cemetery,” Carter said. “I had a good heart-to-heart with my greatest fear, and I made a clear decision to make cancer my friend, and not my enemy, because it would help me jump into life with both feet.”
The diagnosis surprised Carter, because she had undergone a mammogram and biopsy in 2014.
“The radiologist saw it on the mammogram and ordered a biopsy, which came up negative,” she said. “The thing was, the biopsy hinged on using a needle and hitting the right spot, which it didn’t.”
In 2015, Carter went in for more tests and doctors diagnosed her with late stage-three breast cancer.
“Looking back, I would have requested an incisional biopsy to make sure we tested the right tissue,” she said.
Carter believes miscommunication between the radiologists made misdiagnosis more likely
“The radiologist who did the mammogram sent over the report to my doctor, and my doctor looked at the report and sent it to the radiologist who did my biopsy,” she said. “I really do believe if there had been direct communication in my case, they would have been more apt to take another step in testing.”
Still, Carter feels lucky the doctors were able to catch the cancer when they did.
“I had a pretty aggressive form of cancer, which was good because there were treatments for it,” she said.
Carter embarked on a rigorous treatment program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute that included two years of chemo and radiation therapy, a right side mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
“I had fantastic medical treatment there by Dr. (Saundra S.) Buys,” she said. “I can’t think of a more angelic doctor.”
Dr. Renalto Saltz, founder of Image Reborn Foundation, a nonprofit that provides retreats to women diagnosed with breast cancer, performed Carter’s reconstructive surgery.
“I went on a retreat when I was deciding about reconstructive surgery,” Carter said. “It allowed us to talk with people without having to explain everything, and Dr. Saltz did a Q and A, and it was comfortable for me to come up with some decisions.”
Although Carter is now cancer-free, she will always remember the three-year emotional roller coaster, she said.
She had just opened her life coaching business, and was ready to move onto the next phase of her life prior to her diagnosis.
“I had been super healthy my whole life, and I’d just moved to Park City from Idaho nine months prior and I was having a blast,” she said. “I was ready to move to the next phase of my life and this was a heavy blow. I had to put my life on a two-year pause.”
Her biggest concern was for her children, three of whom were still living at home.
“I was the sole breadwinner for my family, and I didn’t know how I could focus on getting well and take care of my kids,” she said. “My kids were still transitioning to our moving here, so this was a big challenge for them.”
Carter faced another challenge — letting people help.
“I have always been the one who would get things done, so this forced me to ask and allow people to help, which was not in my nature,” she said. “I wasn’t good at being up front at what the needs were. There was a fine line that ran between what I needed and what I was able to do.”
But help did come.
“People who I hadn’t seen in years stepped up and would just show up to spend the weekend,” Carter said. “My family was the same. My siblings and parents were also there.”
Carter’s local church also donated meals and paid her rent, and her children’s schools were good about checking in as well, she said.
“While my older kids could process the situation, I remember my son asked my sister if he would have to live with his dad if I died,” Carter said. “Their dad wasn’t in the picture, and that was my son’s reality. So I made a decision that cancer would be part of our lives, but not run our lives.”
Carter worked throughout treatment, but there were some challenges.
“I could do the coaching, but the mediation proved to be difficult at times,” she said. “I didn’t know day-to-day of how my stamina would be, but I was able to schedule things once I got used to the chemo schedule and figured out my pattern.”
After Carter was deemed cancer-free, she had a hard time fully celebrating.
“Once you go through something like that, you are no longer naive,” she said. “Everyone celebrated that I was done, but I was in a devastation stage, thinking about ‘what if it comes back.’”
So she made another decision to enjoy life to the fullest.
“I jumped into my plans and expanded my business,” she said. “I also feel like I’m more present with my kids, because I found life isn’t about big moments. It’s about simple things. You wake up to snow in October and enjoy it.”
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Park City Library director Adriane Herrick Juarez hosts the Library Leadership Podcast that helps and inspires librarians across the country to strengthen their libraries.