Carmen's Story

 

Larry and Carmen Brotherton became an integral part of the Dragon Boat Upstate Festival, after Carmen's ovarian cancer diagnosis and recovery.

Carmen Brotherton nearly walked out of her annual checkup without requesting the simple test that may have saved her life. Brotheron’s gynecologist had just conducted her regular exam and found everything to be normal.

“Before my appointment, a friend had recommended I have an ovarian cancer screening test,” said Brotherton. “It was as if a little voice whispered a reminder in my ear as I was leaving the doctor’s office.”

The test for ovarian cancer is not a standard test and not normally covered by insurance, but it was the best $100 Brotherton ever spent.

The gynecologist explained the test and added it to Brotherton’s chart. A week later, she received a phone call while driving home from the beach. The test showed she had elevated levels of CA-125, indicating possible ovarian cancer. Immediately upon her return, she underwent a vaginal ultrasound, which revealed two ovarian cysts with possible fluid buildup – a second indicator that cancer might be present. Brotherton then was referred to Larry Puls, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist with the Cancer Institute of Greenville Health System (GHS).

“Surgery to remove both my ovaries was scheduled for the next week, but even for that short time, the waiting was stressful,” remarked Brotherton. “Results of the surgery confirmed my fears. I had cancer, but I was incredibly lucky to be diagnosed at stage 1A, the earliest stage.”

The early detection may have saved her life. Like most patients with ovarian cancer in early stages of the disease, Brotherton did not exhibit any symptoms, and her cancer was undetectable through a physical exam.

Had she not requested the test, it may not have been detected until it reached an advanced stage.

Thankfully, the cancerous tissue was confined to one ovary. To be safe, Brotherton’s surgeon removed both ovaries as planned. Her oncologist then recommended a course of chemotherapy to kill any stray cells that may have escaped.

“I was overcome with tears of joy,” said Brotherton’s husband, Larry, upon the news that the cancer had not spread. “I felt helpless when Carmen was diagnosed and I had to leave her in the hands of others. But God was with us, and our prayers were answered through the healing hands of her doctors.”

After chemo, Brotherton entered Moving On, an oncology rehabilitation program the GHS Cancer Institute offers in conjunction with the University of South Carolina Department of Exercise Science. She began the program to regain her strength and energy after chemo – and found something more: a way to give back to cancer patients and families like hers through the Dragon Boat Upstate Festival.

“The Moving On staff and patients were so passionate and motivated,” she said. “They combined the exercise and mind/body programs of the rehabilitation program with passionate social fundraising for the GHS Cancer Center to create the most fun event I’ve ever been a part of!”

Husband Larry sponsored a dragon boat, B-aware, for her and her new friends at the Ovarian Cancer Foundation. The boating festival became a bonding experience for the Brotherton family as the couple’s three children, eight grandchildren and extended family came to support B-aware.

 “The festival was a great, fun time,” Carmen said. “There was so much camaraderie among and between the teams. We were all united to support cancer research and treatment plans in the Upstate. I was most touched when I saw the doctors and nurses from the Cancer Center working with patients and supporters in a different environment. Knowing they really care is powerful. They cared enough to come to Lake Hartwell on a weekend, donate their time and money, and paddle their tails off in a boat race!”

The Dragon Boat Upstate Festival isn’t the only way Brotherton gives back. When she finished chemo treatments, she started volunteering at the Cancer Center, helping around the office and keeping patients company as they undergo long treatments.

“When patients learn I’m a survivor, that I was sitting in that treatment chair not long ago, it gives them hope,” she said. “This experience has given me a new purpose: helping people fight cancer.”


Get Involved

If you'd like more information on supporting cancer patients and families, contact Philanthropy & Partnership Director of Cancer Services Jim Kaltenbach at (864) 797-7734 or jkaltenbach@ghs.org.

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