May 26, 2020 by John Fernandez
‘It’s Cancer’ – The Hardest Words You’ll Ever Hear
Cancer was the furthest thought in Rosemary Carrera’s mind. She had always led a healthy and active lifestyle, participated in half-marathons, was a triathlete, and she was very conscious about her eating habits. Adding to this list, she had recently had a healthy baby girl, which also led her to believe everything was fine.
But Ms. Carrera, an optometrist, was diagnosed with breast cancer – invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2A – in early 2018. “Those words – ‘it’s cancer’ — are probably the hardest words you’ll ever have to hear in your life,” said Ms. Carrera, 41
(Watch now: The Baptist Heath News Team hears from patient Rosemary Carrera and Starr Mautner, M.D., a breast surgeon at Miami Cancer Institute. Video by Alcyene Almeida Rodrigues.)
Ms. Carrera did not have any symptoms stemming from her breast cancer. “This was found incidentally on a screening mammogram that was done and performed because she was at the age of 40,” said Starr Mautner, M.D., a breast surgeon at Miami Cancer Institute, “which is usually when we start to recommend screening mammograms to be performed.”
It was a Thursday afternoon, a regular working day for the optometrist, when she got the call from Dr. Mautner to inform her the results of her tests were positive.
“Everything just went silent … and then I thought about my daughter. What if I am not here for her? What if I don’t get to see her turn one or graduate kindergarten, high school or anything like that,” recalls an emotional Ms. Carrera.
That realization made her want to treat the cancer as quickly and aggressively as possible.
“When I see a patient for the first time, I try to reassure them that they are really going to be okay and that we have treatments for this,” said Dr. Mautner. “We know how to cure breast cancer and most patients do very well.”
“I really felt I was going to be fine once I saw Dr. Mautner,” said Ms. Carrera. She added that Dr. Mautner was very clear on all the treatment choices and what she recommended. Ms. Carrera said there was no doubt in her mind that Dr. Mautner was the right surgeon.
Ms. Carrera underwent bilateral mastectomies, which is the removal of both breasts, followed by chemotherapy. After that part of the treatment, she underwent a total abdominal hysterectomy, a procedure that removes the uterus and the cervix. In her case, the ovaries were also removed. The last part of her treatment consisted of radiation therapy to the chest wall.
Ms. Carrera said it was very comforting that all of her doctors were at the Miami Cancer Institute. “I could schedule three or four appointments in one day and see everyone all at one shot,” she said. “It was also wonderful to have this entire team with me throughout that knew everything. They knew every step of my process.”
Ms. Carrera opened up about the pride she feels about being a survivor, but also points out the responsibility it brings. “It’s your job to spread the message of awareness, the importance of early detection, the importance of self-exams and mammograms,” she says.
Cancer has affected Rosemary’s life significantly. “The main thing I have realized from this is that you can’t take for granted any moment in your life,” she said. “You have to take advantage of everything because you just never know when something like this is going to pop up and you don’t really know what the outcome will be.”
Ms. Carrera has received a full gamut of treatment recommendations and procedures regarding her breast cancer. “She’s gone through it all and she’s come out a warrior and a survivor and smiling at the end of all of these. And truly, is an inspiration for all of us,” said Dr. Mautner.
305 Pink Pack
Ms. Carrera and her sister decided to help women with all types of cancers go through their treatments with an initiative called 305 Pink Pack. “We realized how important it is to have support through all of this so you can focus on getting better,” she said. “Our goal is to help women with any type of cancer get the supplies that they need on a temporary basis … also to help them with services, like home cleaning and child care, so they can focus on getting better.”
Their first project was participating in the Pink Lemonade Stand Challenge with Rosemary’s nieces and their book club. The challenge is an effort that consists of raising money for breast cancer research throughout the U.S., and the 305 Pink Pack initiative was the first effort in Miami. They raised $1,000 in their first hour in the event.
“We’ll be getting the word out through Facebook and we’ll have brochures and pamphlets here at Miami Cancer Institute,” Ms. Carrera says proudly.