Overcoming Odds: Carlene's Story

My mother was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2010: I was 23 years old. I remember her sitting up in her bed, a single tear rolling down her cheek, and I heard my younger sister let out a sob before regaining control of her emotions. A lifetime of memories swirled around the room as three trembling women struggled to digest unfortunate news.

My parents worked tirelessly to make sure that my younger sister and I had a premium education, a well-rounded, wholesome adolescence. My mom, in particular, put her professional goals and aspirations aside to be the best mother she possibly could: She worked in our elementary school, was our Daisy and Brownie troop leader. She planned birthdays at bowling alleys and chaperoned first school dances. When our high school was an hour away, she got a job at the institution so that my sister and I had a proper ride each day, ensured that her hours were adjacent to ours. My mother volunteered to be our cheerleading coach when there wasn’t a squad; she never missed a game or competition.

She was more than “the coach” though: the ride, the school’s administrative assistant, the source of lunch money, the disciplinarian when teacher’s divulged information about unfavorable quiz results. She was the woman who bought the entire squad Subway before Friday night games so that we weren’t cheering on empty stomachs. She led fundraisers to instill a work ethic in us all while promising us new uniforms, no matter how much we raised. She was a doctor, a therapist, an escape from teenage dramas… she was the MVP in everyone’s yearbooks, in everyone’s hearts.

She was sad to see wings spread but the loudest one cheering in the stands when I became the first person in our family to graduate college. When I moved back home and started my first job in fundraising, she was proud: Once again, she was all in, willing to help.

But I was still young, and my sister, three years younger. We had so much life ahead of us, and so did our mother, we believed. So on the night that she recited her poor test findings, my response was simple, “What needs to be done, to beat it?”

We, as a family, followed process. I remember traveling to Dana Farber with my parents, yellow pad between sweaty palms, and took notes as the doctor explained upcoming procedures. My mother had surgery, completed a few rounds of radiation, and beat breast cancer without undergoing any chemotherapy.

In 2012, however, we received heartbreaking news: My mom, my best friend, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer, also known as “the silent killer.” Chemotherapy was necessary in treating such an aggressive disease, but once again, it was a family effort: We did what was needed to ensure favorable results.

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. On average, it plagues women over the age of 63 years old and is very rare in younger women. For all types of ovarian cancer, the five-year survival rate is 45%. In 2017, my mom entered her 5th year of remission at the age of 58. Despite the statistics, together, we beat the odds.

This year began with a multitude of highs for the family: In February, my sister got engaged to the man of her dreams.  My husband and I celebrated our first year of marriage and started discussions about having a family. My mother came to visit me in May and for the first time in our adult years, had a week long sleepover, doing nothing more than just enjoying each other’s company. This summer, my parents hosted an incredible engagement party in our childhood home.

But in 2017, we watched my mother’s markers move slowly, but steadily, out of remission. In November, it was confirmed that cancer cells had been found in the liver and spleen. And in December, my father- the only source of income and insurance for my mother- was let go from his job.

Once again, my family and I seem to be outnumbered by the size and scope of opposing forces. Some people might even accept defeat in this situation, surrender to fate or the “whatever’s meant to be” cliche. But we will not give up hope: We must do the only thing that we know how- follow process- and fight this thing head on.

I think of the past: The aggressive chemotherapy cocktails that my mom endured caused her short term memory to waiver and her body to withstand the most terrible side effects. She fought hard to take back her quality of life, and succeeded. When she started losing her hair and struggled with her self image, my father came home one day with a comically shaped and very bald shaved head. When she needed a ride to the hospital, my sister was home to make the commute despite any prior plans. When mom needed therapy, everyone connected under the roof of a family cottage, for board games and book discussions and soothing days under the summer sun.

Most of all, though, I think of the future. My sister is getting married in June of 2019, and although the doctors asked if we could move up the date, I refuse to let that be an option: My mother will be present. She’ll be present for the bridal suite toast and grandchildren debuts. My father and mother have “snowbird” dreams: A lifetime working construction has only been made manageable by mom’s assurances, using buzzwords like, “golfing” and “Savannah” or “Charleston.” She will, she must, be present for it all.

And therefore I have to ask, because the odds are, in fact, against us: If my mother, if my family, has enriched your life in any way, please help us follow process. Please help us get to our next step, our next milestone, whatever that may be.

We have found a natural, less aggressive treatment that has proven to effectively cure my mother's type of cancer, as chemotherophy only provides a 10% success rate, the second time around.  This method is not backed by the FDA, however, so treatments are not covered by insurance. Each session will cost up to $40,572.00, and can run from 8 months to18 months, depending on her progress. I vow to keep you engaged with financial updates, strides, setbacks, and if my mother is cured with funds left to spare, my family will donate the remaining donations to the next person that is in need of this type of treatment.

I am determined to make this a story of strength. The future is unknown regarding my father’s job and my mother’s fate, but as a family we are prepared to fight, to overcome. This journey will not be a quiet one; We are ready to create a process, find a solution, fueled by faith. My mom deserves to see my sister get married next June. My mother deserves to hold her future grandchildren, read them stories before bed. My father and mother worked way too hard to give up on their snowbird dreams now. 

Please help us make our future plans a reality. Please help us beat the odds, one day at a time.

Me, My Mom, & My Sister Upon Her College Graduation, 2014
  • Shirley McGuigan 
    • $100 
    • 35 mos
  • Jan Dougal 
    • $25 
    • 41 mos
  • Anthony Floyd 
    • $270 
    • 42 mos
  • Shirley McGuigan 
    • $100 
    • 43 mos
  • Marsha Hartman  
    • $50 (Offline)
    • 44 mos
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Organizer and beneficiary

Britney Faustine 
Organizer
Columbia, CT
Carlene Martin 
Beneficiary
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