Carpenter learns value of self-examination

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 8, 2010

Susan Carpenter found out she had breast cancer the night of the 2009 Covington County Relay for Life.

“Talk about timing,” Carpenter said. “And I went, too. I did the lap, and no one there knew I had breast cancer.”

The then 42-year-old mother of two said she discovered the lump last May during an “accidental” self-exam.

“Really, I did everything the way that you’re not supposed to,” she said. “I had skipped my mammogram the year before, and really only thought about it during that once-a-year appointment with the gynecologist. I even put off going to the doctor when I found (the lump).”

Carpenter, who works as the county’s emergency management agency director, said the “knot” was located on her right breast, close to her rib cage.

“It’s a wonder I even found it,” she said. “But, when I laid down on my side, you could really feel it.”

Carpenter said she even waited days before heading into the doctor’s office.

“I kind of thought, ‘I’m probably wasting my time,’” she said. “I was so wrong.”

An ultrasound of the lump led to a mammogram, which led to a lumpectomy.

“It went that fast too,” she said of the four-day span. “I got a call that Friday of Relay asking me to come into the doctor’s office. I knew then it was cancer.”

Surrounded by her sister Cathy King and fiancé Ken Harris, her fear was confirmed – stage 1 breast cancer.

“My case (of breast cancer) was totally outside the norm,” she said. “I’m young and have no history of cancer in my family. My faith in God has always been strong. When the ‘C’ word came up, I had the confidence that God was in control. I had faith in my doctors, in what they told me. I did everything they said do.”

Doctors decided to treat her cancer aggressively – a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and its surrounding tissue and six weeks of radiation six days a week. Luckily, there were no signs of cancer in the lymph nodes, she said.

“I waited until after Mother’s Day weekend to tell the children,” she said, speaking of 23-year-old Lance, 14-year-old Caitlin and soon-to-be-stepchildren, Haley, 11, and Austin, 6.

“First thing, my daughter said, ‘Are you going to die?’” she said. “Apparently, she’d had a lesson in science class that said cancer leads to death.

“I told her that things looked good, and that was probably a very old textbook,” she said. “Things are so different these days. Medicine is different. Education is different.

“I was lucky,” she said. “We caught it very, very early. That’s why breast cancer awareness is so important. I knew the things that you were supposed to do. Now, I want all women to pay attention and do them.”

Carpenter stressed the importance of self-exams, routine mammograms and, “If you have any doubts or whatever you think that lump might be, get it checked out. Don’t hesitate.”

For Carpenter, the future looks bright and hopefully cancer-free. She and her fiancé plan to wed Oct. 31, and now this May, when Carpenter makes the lap around the Kiwanis Building’s track, it will be as a cancer survivor.

Covington County EMA Director Susan Carpenter recently defeated breast cancer and said she knows the importance of self-exams. | Stephanie Nelson/Star-News