Cancer survivor: 'Trust your body'
Carrie Trantham of Candler is living proof that trusting your instincts can save your life.
She recently celebrated five years of being cancer free. It has been time well spent with her loving husband and her precious three daughters. Her sisters and mother made her a plaque that reads, "I'm braver because I fought a giant and won. I'm stronger because I had to be. I'm happier because I've learned what matters. I stand taller because I am a survivor."
“I think that quote sums up my journey pretty well,” Trantham said.
She was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer at the age of 34. While women aren’t advised to get mammograms until 40, it was a self-breast exam that caught a lump in May 2008.
“I wasn’t really worried about it,” she said. “I’ve worked with breast ultrasounds before and it wasn’t hard and mobile so I didn’t even scan myself.”
Trantham is co-owner of Mountain Ultrasound Imaging in Asheville, making her very familiar with X-rays and ultrasounds. She ignored the lump for a couple of months but decided to scan herself at work in July when she still felt it. The scan revealed an abnormality, which prompted her to have a mammogram and biopsy at Chapel Hill UNC.
She was told Aug. 19, 2008 hat she had stage 1 breast cancer. She had nine masses in her left breast, which is unusual.
“I was only 34 years old and it doesn’t run in my family,” she said. “If I hadn’t done my exam and felt the lump, it could have been years later it was caught.”
Before visiting Chapel Hill, she went to a doctor in Asheville who told her to wait six months because he thought the multiple masses were probably benign.
“In my heart I knew it wasn’t right so I didn’t wait six months,” she said. “You need to listen to your body when you just have that feeling that something’s not right.”
The Asheville practice knows now that they made a mistake and has changed their entire protocol.
Trantham said the news was devastating — mostly because the thought of not being with her family was something she didn’t want to face.
“I thought of my girls. I’ve got to see them graduate and get married and have kids of there own. That was my fight,’ she said.
Her fight has not been easy. She opted to have a double mastectomy to lower her risk of having it return when she is older. After the surgery she took time to recover before starting six rounds of chemotherapy.
After her treatment Trantham looked into her options for breast reconstruction. She wanted to have her breasts reconstructed using her own fat from somewhere else, but she was told she didn’t have enough. She went with implants but they later got infected and had them taken out.
She then did her own research and decided to go to the Center for Breast Surgery in New Orleans. The doctors there were able to do the flap reconstruction by using fat from her hip. She wants women to know that they have options and encourages other to learn those options before making any decisions.
“When you’re diagnosed you’re really not told all your options. You’re in survivor mode and you’re not thinking about those things,” she said.
Trantham said she wouldn't have made it through the cancer without her family and friends.
“You definitely need that support system,” she said. “Your family, church family and God — he always gave me the strength I needed.”
Keeping her life and daughters in a comfortable routine during her treatments also helped her keep a sense of normalcy.
“I never felt not like myself even during chemo — I missed some work when I was really sick but you just try to get back to life,” she said.
She urges women to do self-exams regularly to know “your normal” and to trust your instincts when it comes to your body.
“Don’t feel like it’s not OK to get a second opinion. A good doctor will tell you to get a second opinion if you feel like you need one.”