Carol Smith Davis grew up in Jacksonville and on Camp Lejeune. Davis remembers spending almost every day of every summer at the pool when she was young. It was fun and there wasn’t much else to do in the area during the 60s and 70s, she said.But even as a child she had problems. Davis has had issues with her immune system all her life in addition to tumors in both of her breasts. Because of this, she had doctor recommended breast exams twice a year.
In January of 2011, Davis went to her exam and everything was fine. But by her next exam in October, there was a problem. “They told me that I had several things they were concerned about,” she said. After several biopsies it was discovered that Davis had three carcinomas in her left breast and six in her right. She had Stage 3 invasive breast cancer.
By the end of November, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Davis had eight of her lymph nodes removed as well as a mastectomy. She had surgery on her birthday -- Feb. 3, 2012. Cancer affected her life in many ways, Davis said. There were medical issues caused by treatment, especially since she already had a compromised immune system, in addition to the emotional and financial stress added to her and her family. There are many things that aren’t talked about when it comes to living beyond cancer, she said. The list side effects caused by treatment is long, but some things, like having to take pills every day for the following years, losing your eyelashes as well as your hair, loss of libido and vaginal dryness don’t always make it into the conversation. “What people don’t tell you about living with breast cancer is that there are so many other things, residual things, that go along with it,” she said. Davis suffers from lymphedema since her lymph nodes were removed. The flow of lymph, fluid that circulates throughout the body to remove waste from tissues, gets backed-up in her arm, causing extreme swelling and pain. In order to keep it manageable, Davis must wear a compression sleeve on the affected arm -- the right arm, her dominant arm.
“I have to wear mine everyday for the rest of my life otherwise my arm just balloons. It gets so big sometimes I can barely lift it,” she said. The sleeves, like many other items meant to help with quality of life, are not covered by her insurance. Davis is happy to have a caring and loving husband, she said. “He’s a kind man and just loves me,” she said. Davis decided not to have reconstructive surgery on her breasts, lives with an enlarged arm and other issues caused by cancer and its treatment. And her husband has stuck by her, she said. Davis also has a good support system in her children and her friends, she said. Davis and her friends get together and keep each other encouraged, she said.