Meet Cancer Warrior and Studio BE Owner Carla Vercoe
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month breast cancer warrior and Studio BE owner Carla Vercoe candidly talks about her breast cancer diagnosis, subsequent treatments, and surgeries. She shares her story in an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer and to encourage women to create a plan to detect the disease in its early stages. Together we can beat this!
STUDIO BE: You were diagnosed with breast cancer ten months ago. How are you doing today—physically and emotionally? Could you give us a health update?
CARLA: I am feeling great both physically and emotionally. I am healing from a double mastectomy, which I had late August. While I am not back 100%, I am still active and try to get some weekly gentle workouts in. Mentally I have never been in a better place. I take time each day to be grateful for the gifts I have been given. I do what I can to help others the way that I have been helped. I have a totally new perspective on life.
STUDIO BE: With your organic diet, your commitment to Pilates, and your focus on wellness, you seem an unlikely candidate for breast cancer. Could you take us to that moment you first suspected you had breast cancer? What went through your mind?
CARLA: Because of my organic, vegan diet and my commitment to Pilates and wellness, I didn’t suspect I had breast cancer. I found a lump in my breast doing a self-examination in September 2015 (I had just been to my OB/GYN in July), and I assumed it was benign. I didn’t ignore it. I went back to my OB/GYN, and she recommended a sonogram. The results called for a biopsy, which I decided to delay until after a planned vacation. I opted for an excisional biopsy instead of a needle biopsy. Since that procedure is an outpatient surgery, I scheduled it after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Even after the surgery, I was confident that everything was okay, as the surgeon said she thought is was fine. To my horror…three days later, I got the call from the surgeon. I heard the words everyone dreads, “It was a cancer.” My heart dropped. The world stopped. I was shaking. I set up my next appointment, and immediately notified my husband and two closest friends. We were all in shock.
STUDIO BE: Unlike many people, you chose to forego regular chemotherapy, opting instead for a more non-traditional approach? What led to your treatment decision?
CARLA: Due to circumstances, I had a lot of time on my hands to do research. I remember someone telling me not to do any research, as I would be afraid of what I would find. That’s ludicrous. There is so much information out there. Some of it is very scary. What scared me most was the possible side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I knew right away that wasn’t for me. I won’t say I didn’t consider it. I had to.
Everyone was telling me that was what I had to do. I found some great books on alternative treatments and books written by integrative cancer doctors. The books included success stories, different types of treatments, and most listed treatment centers. The ones I connected to I called. I must have submitted my medical records to at least four alternative therapy clinics in the United States and Mexico.
In the end, I chose an integrative cancer doctor in Florida that came highly recommended by two doctors I see regularly. His protocol was rigorous. Every week I had one low dose chemotherapy session, two hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions, and one Vitamin C infusion. Four days a week I had therapy! For the first six weeks, I actually flew to Florida for the chemotherapy. I flew down and back in the same day and completed my other treatments in the Northern Virginia area. On top of these therapies, I also had a regimen that included many supplements. It was all very overwhelming at first.
STUDIO BE: You mentioned in an earlier article, “I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had, what’s transpired during treatment or the relationships deepened and new ones formed over the last nine months since my diagnosis.” That’s a very bold statement. Tell us what you mean by that.
CARLA: I have always been the person to take care of others. I’m not used to anyone taking care of me. When I realized this treatment was not going to be covered by insurance and I was paying for two people to fly to Florida each week I really panicked. My dear friend Shelly said don’t worry, we will start a Go Fund Me Campaign for you. She wrote a beautiful introduction and shared my story and put up the campaign on her FaceBook page. I shared it. Many shared it.
It was very hard for me to do. I was dumbfounded when the funds kept rising and rising. It was so beautiful to have so many people donate to support me. And if they couldn’t help with money they supported me in other ways. Phone calls, emails, texts. Friends and family were always checking with me letting me know they were there for me. It was beautiful. I still can’t believe the connections I made and the support I received. Love is everywhere.
STUDIO BE: How important was your support system to getting through this difficult time?
CARLA: Very. My family helped me in many ways. My friends took me to treatments. They listened to me cry. They watched me change. I was like a butterfly…I went from a scared, helpless person to a confident, happy and loving woman. They tell me I am their hero. I don’t know that I would call myself a hero but I do feel a sense of responsibility to give back by sharing my story and helping others.
STUDIO BE: What did this experience teach you about yourself and others?
CARLA: God is in me. God is in everyone. God loves me. God loves everyone. I love everyone. I love God. God has a plan for me. I will live out his plan.
STUDIO BE: What advice would you offer to someone who has just received a breast cancer diagnosis or knows someone who has?
CARLA: The biggest thing is to take your time and do your research. You are so scared and so vulnerable when you get the news that you don’t want to deal with anything. The doctors scare you. The technicians scare you. I can’t tell you how many times I was in tears saying “No, I don’t want to do that,” and they kept pushing me. Sometimes I succumbed. Sometimes I didn’t. I now have the confidence and the right doctors. All of my doctors had to listen to me. It’s my body. It’s my choice. Interview your doctors. Find one you like and trust. Find a doctor that can actually answer your questions. The one answer I will never accept is, “It’s Standard.”
STUDIO BE: You talk about this time in your life as being very healing. It sounds like you’re talking from a holistic viewpoint. Could you say more about that?
CARLA: It has been physically healing but mostly emotionally and spiritually healing. I found different types of healers that helped me. There are many out there. I have been to at least five different types myself. To talk about all of them would be a whole new article.
I will share a story from one of my healers though. He was a retired pathologist and is now an author and healer. I visited him a few times. My first visit with him he told me it didn’t matter which treatment I chose, as long as I believed in it, it would work. I asked how could he say that as a pathologist knowing I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. He said it was because he was a pathologist that had seen tumors disappear overnight.
Each of them I only needed to see a finite number of times. Some more than others. But I knew when it was time to move onto something else. That is part of the healing process, knowing that you are healed and knowing what you need and when. I still meditate and pray. I practice yoga along with Pilates and I’m always trying to connect with myself on a deeper level. My newest healing practice is Yoga Nidra.
STUDIO BE: How is Pilates helping you in your recovery process?
CARLA: Pilates is movement. I know how important movement is and I keep moving. My doctors are very pleased with how quickly I have recovered from all of my surgeries (I have had three in all and will need one more for my final reconstruction). The anesthesia takes a toll on my body but I do what I can to detox and keep moving.
STUDIO BE: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
CARLA: I love you.