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Carla’s brave breast cancer battle

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Carla May Bean had big plans for her 40th birthday.

She was going to Jamaica, where she'd party the night away with some of her best girlfriends.

Instead, when December 3, 2014 rolled around, she was here.

Doctors had found a small, but aggressive tumour in her left breast that August. Ms Bean's birthday celebrations took a back seat to the chemotherapy treatment she was undergoing at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

“When I got the news, the first thing I said to the doctor was, ‘You mean, I can't go to Jamaica?'” she said.

The hardest part was telling her family. Sharing the news with her then 19-year-old daughter Michaela was especially difficult.

“Because we'd had so little experience with breast cancer, everyone assumed the worst,” she said.

Ms Bean had her first course of chemo that Halloween. The day before, she took part in the annual Breast Cancer Awareness Walk organised by BF&M.

“My family and my girlfriends got T-shirts made up,” she said. “We had arm bands. I had huge support.”

The chemo continued every other week for four weeks. Each treatment was two-and-a-half hours long.

She blew through the first day, the nausea hit 24 hours later.

“I was expecting to be sick, but not expecting the level it took me to,” she said. “And with the type of medication I was on, it messed with my mind. It made me want to give up.”

It became increasingly difficult for the bank administrator to continue going to work.

“By the time I felt better from the treatment it was time to go back for the next one,” she said.

During the second week she ended up in the Emergency Room, suffering from dehydration.

“That was my worst day,” she said. “During treatment that was the only time I cried. I just felt so sick.”

Her family and friends gave her a surprise party for her 40th.

“My big sister Nicole's birthday is three days apart from mine. Because her birthday was on the Saturday, she gave me her day to celebrate. That was really special; she took the attention off herself just for me and had the party at her house.”

Her sister also went with her to all her doctors' appointments and helped liaise with doctors overseas.

Once the chemotherapy had run its course, Ms Bean was sent to Lahey Hospital in Boston for three months of radiation treatment.

“My daughter endured a lot,” she said. “On my last day of treatment, I said, ‘Thank you for your patience and sticking in there with me'. She said, ‘I'd do it all over again'. That really touched my heart.”

Thoughts of her daughter were frequently the only thing that got her through the tough times. The 21-year-old is now off in university, studying to become a nurse.

“I kept saying, ‘I have to get my daughter through university',” she said. “‘I need to see her graduate and get married'. My being sick was something that solidified her desire to be a nurse.”

Family and friends were waiting at LF Wade International Airport with balloons and flowers when she returned home on June 6 of last year.

“That was when I cried,” she said. “Prior to that, I only cried once when I was really sick. It just seemed like a blur. It seemed so unreal.”

It's been more than a year now since she settled back into regular life. She plans to go to Jamaica in two years' time, as bridesmaid for a girlfriend getting married there.

Her advice to women is simple: take care of yourself.

“I have friends who have told me they don't check their breasts,” she said. “They don't get mammograms because they're too scared it will hurt.

“To me it is selfish not to do your annual examinations because you leave people behind if you die from cancer.”

•Hear more survivor stories at a cocktail party organised by Ultimate Imaging on the ground floor of the International Centre on Bermudiana Road. The free event takes place October 27 from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

Urging vigilance: breast cancer survivor Carla Bean wants all women to check for signs of the disease (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Love and support: Carla Bean and daughter Michaela, on Carla's first day of chemotherapy in 2014 (Photograph supplied)
Strength in numbers: Carla May Bean, far right wearing pink, in the last Relay for Life event (Photograph supplied)

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Published October 12, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 12, 2016 at 8:47 am)

Carla’s brave breast cancer battle

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