Young women with breast cancer form Anchorage support group
Cancer is sneaky. Just ask Anchorage's Carey Carpenter, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer seven years ago when she was 34 years old.
Carpenter said the diagnosis took her by surprise, and with good reason. She had no family history and took care of herself, and she'd finished the Mayor's Half Marathon in just two hours a couple weeks before.
"I was at the top of my game," Carpenter said.
Carpenter's son was 3 and her daughter was 15 months old when she discovered the lump in her breast.
"I was playing patty-cake with my daughter one day on the couch and she missed my hand and she hit me in the chest," Carpenter said.
That hit stung a bit, Carpenter said, so she went to rub it and found a lump. The discovery was surprising because she'd been to her doctor just a month before.
"She'd done a breast exam and she didn't find anything," Carpenter said. "And then a month later I found that lump -- and not only was there one lump, there was three."
Carpenter was diagnosed with a fast-growing form of hormone-driven, life-threatening cancer. Within weeks, she was deep into treatment that included chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy.
During her chemo treatments, Carpenter noticed that most people in the room were a bit older -- and their concerns were a bit different.
"I'm going through cancer when my kids are 1 and 3," Carpenter said. "And I'm sitting next to somebody who's telling me that she wants to see her grandkids grow up. I'm thinking, 'Grandkids?' They aren't even on my radar. I just want to see my kids graduate from kindergarten!'"
Carpenter got her wish, but she also did something to address her concerns. When her treatment finished, she started a support group for young adults that she called The Cancer Club. The group, which became a nonprofit in 2013, is now officially called The Anchorage Young Cancer Coalition.
Carpenter said the club gives voice to the unique concerns of young adults with cancer but it also emphasizes living life and having fun. Members, who now number more than 100, have a Facebook page and meet weekly. There are also numerous outings.
Carpenter said she likes to get people outdoors so they can experience the healing power of nature.
"We are going to empower Cancer Club members to give back what cancer has tried to take away," she said.
On Thursday night, the group will accept a check from the Alaska Run for Women. Carpenter said the money will go to help pay for a retreat next year in Seward for young cancer survivors.
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