EP 128 – Carolyn Cofield & Brianna Cole
[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen. This is real pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room. Most breast cancers, not related to genes or family history. However, if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, your family members, especially sisters, daughters, and mothers may have an increased risk of getting breastfeed.
[00:00:27] Adam Walker: When cancer does affect multiple generations in a family, the impact can be far greater reaching than just the physical symptoms. Today we’re joined by a mother-daughter duo to talk about their family’s breast cancer journey in how they’re shared BRCA two positive gene mutation has impacted their family and their medical decisions.
[00:00:48] Adam Walker: Carolyn and Brianna. Welcome to the show.
[00:00:51] Carolyn Cofield: Thank you so much.
[00:00:54] Adam Walker: This is a really important. Topic, uh, and, and some I’m really excited to chat about it. So, um, I know that this is a family disease for you is to Carolyn. Why don’t you start off by telling us about your mother’s breast cancer journey, and then we can walk through the experience of your
[00:01:12] Carolyn Cofield: well, um, my mom actually passed away from breast cancer seven years ago, but prior to that, My siblings and I was there eight of us.
[00:01:24] Carolyn Cofield: I’m the youngest of eight. We had no idea that my mom even had cancer anywhere in her history. Um, when we went to go visit her for her 80th birthday, um, she. Was normal to me. I didn’t think anything was wrong, but after her birthday, my, um, brother pulled my younger sister and I to the side and let us know that our mom had stage four breast cancer.
[00:01:52] Carolyn Cofield: And then following up with all of that, we were. I’m told by a one of my mom’s very good friend who actually took care of her when she had her first bout with breast cancer. Um, when she was in her late forties, she had breast cancer and had a lumpectomy, which, uh, me and my siblings, no one even knew about her.
[00:02:13] Carolyn Cofield: Her friend kept that secret. So she had a lumpectomy. And then about 30 years later, The breast cancer came again and it moved to our bones. And of course, eventually two months later, it, it actually took her life. Um, so that’s where the breast cancer started with my journey.
[00:02:35] Adam Walker: Hmm. Also tell us a little bit more about your own diagnosis.
[00:02:38] Adam Walker: You’ve been diagnosed as well.
[00:02:40] Carolyn Cofield: Yes, yes. I’ve actually been diagnosed twice. Um, and as you were asking me the question about how soon it was after my mom’s passing, um, unfortunately it was six months later. Um, after my mom passed, I was actually diagnosed with breast cancer. And the funny thing about that was I had no, um, Thought about having a, a mammogram.
[00:03:07] Carolyn Cofield: I wasn’t even thinking about it. I wasn’t gonna do it because, um, you know, I didn’t believe that, you know, I would be someone that would have breast cancer. Um, but the, the miracle and all of that. My husband, who I always call him my, um, you know, the person that saved my life. Um, he decided that he wanted to make appointments for Hannah to get physicals.
[00:03:34] Carolyn Cofield: So, um, when we, he made this appointment for us to get physicals, when we were at the doctor’s office, he was like, oh, there’s radiology. Why don’t you just go and have it? A mammogram and I’m like, no, uh, you know, um, I don’t, I don’t want to, but he was insisting that since we were there, just go ahead and get it done.
[00:03:54] Carolyn Cofield: And lo and behold, when that those, the film developed and they saw something and sent me for an ultrasound, and then the ultrasound sent me to a biopsy and lo and behold, of course it was, it was, it was actually positive for breast cancer.
[00:04:12] Adam Walker: Hmm. Wow. So, so let’s talk a little bit about what your treatment was like for you and for your family.
[00:04:18] Adam Walker: Were you able to work through it and then brand I’d also love to hear from your perspective what it was like seeing your mom go through treatment.
[00:04:28] Carolyn Cofield: Okay. So what, what I will, I will let you know, I have to kind of go back just a little bit, so you will understand how my journey went. Um, when, when I. Had the biopsy and, um, they told me, okay, well, don’t even worry about it because you have dense breasts and, um, it’s probably nothing.
[00:04:50] Carolyn Cofield: We’re going to make a phone appointment for you on Friday and we’ll give you the results. Well, I got a call from Kaiser on Wednesday. And my occupation at the time, I’m now retired, but I was a probation officer and, you know, I drive around in my car to go see my clients and check on them. And I get this call on Wednesday, two days earlier than I’m supposed to from Kaiser.
[00:05:13] Carolyn Cofield: So I immediately know. I, I obviously have breast cancer, so I pull my car over. Um, and, and I, I, you know, I accept the call and everything and they, I can hear it. And just the way she was talking to me that it was going to be positive. So, um, I told her, you know, okay, it’s fine. Um, and then my reaction is like, get it out right now.
[00:05:36] Carolyn Cofield: Can, can you make an appointment now? And, you know, they were like, yes, they made an appointment for me to see them actually that afternoon. I cried that one time. And then, you know, like, like the spirit came over me that, you know, Hey, you got this. Why not? You, you can handle breast cancer. So that was my motto from there.
[00:05:56] Carolyn Cofield: Why not me? And. Actually God, just, he just elevated that situation where I had no problem with the breast cancer treatment. I had my lumpectomy, which was actually, um, three months later, which at first I was terrified because I’m thinking it’s in there for three months, what’s gonna, it’s gonna grow and it’s gonna, you know, do this to me.
[00:06:20] Carolyn Cofield: But my, my doctor explained to me that, Hey, is. This is okay, we’re going to take care of it. So I had the lumpectomy, the margins were clear. The lymph nodes were clear after that. I, my oncologist had me do, uh, chemotherapy. Um, Every two weeks. And I did that for about three months. Um, I never threw up, I never got sick.
[00:06:46] Carolyn Cofield: I went to work every day. Uh, I did lose my hair, but, um, you know, I was strong. I, I never even needed the, uh, uh, handicap sticker for my car or anything like that after everything was healed. And, um, I was, uh, done with the chemotherapy. I did 26 rounds of radiation. Um, same thing. I went to work every day. I had, of course, you know, you do your radiation everyday only having weekends off.
[00:07:15] Carolyn Cofield: But I went to work every day. I had my little, my little breast cancer, uh, knitted cat on my head and I had no hair, but I was there taking care of business and I was perfectly fine.
[00:07:29] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s amazing. Uh, so, uh, so Brianna, tell us from your perspective, what was it like watching your mom go through this.
[00:07:37] Brianna Cole: Well, of course at first, obviously after losing my grandmas so soon, I, I panicked at first. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. And I was away at college, so I was six hours away from even being home. And, um, my young, my mom’s youngest child and the only girl. And I’m like, okay, well I need to leave school.
[00:08:03] Brianna Cole: I need to quit track. I told my coach, I was like, I’m done. I’m going home. I need to be with my mom. But my, my mom is my saving grace. She’s the only reason I finished my senior year of track. And she was at every last one of my track meets. So my mom is my hero. She’s kind of my team’s hero. We dedicated the year to her.
[00:08:26] Brianna Cole: Um, We, my coach made us pink shirts. We won conference boys and girls, one conference. We had pink
[00:08:35] Carolyn Cofield: every, every week,
[00:08:37] Brianna Cole: breast cancer, ribbon, socks, literally everything. And she was in the stands every week. No matter what she looks like. I cut my hair. My mom didn’t know that I cut my hair for her, but I cut my hair before her hair started falling out so that she wouldn’t be the only one with no little to no hay.
[00:08:57] Brianna Cole: Um, and she, she, she, she got me through, uh, my last year, our favorite sport. So I really, really did it for her. She she’s my hero, regardless if she thinks so or not, but she, she motivated me to do everything in life. Full-hearted.
[00:09:18] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s beautiful. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. I really appreciate it.
[00:09:21] Adam Walker: And Carolyn, I mean, in the, in the stands every time, it sounds like you’re a, you’re a superhero there. I love that. So, um, so Carolyn let’s, let’s talk a little bit more, I think you mentioned earlier, let’s talk a little bit more about your reoccurance. So how did you find out about it and were you able to handle it with the same grace under pressure that you did the first time?
[00:09:42] Carolyn Cofield: Wow. The second, the second time that, that was, that was really. A shock. For one thing, because it was actually five-year I had my five-year anniversary being breast cancer free. I had gone to see my oncologist. He said, everything looked great, everything looked fine. Um, you’re you’re doing, you’re doing amazing.
[00:10:04] Carolyn Cofield: Um, I was taking the Tamoxifen every day, like I was supposed to twice a day. And, um, he said everything was working just fine. So of course when it was time for me to do my, uh, mammogram. I kind of slacked off on it because you know, my doctor was saying I was fine. So, um, here it came to be a couple of months past due and they sent me a letter saying, okay, you need to come in and have your mammogram.
[00:10:31] Carolyn Cofield: And I finally went on in to do. And when I tell you that pitcher came back with another spot on the opposite breast. Cause the first breast cancer was in the left side and the new breast cancer on the right side. And I was like, no, I know this isn’t happening again. But lo and behold, it was the same thing.
[00:10:53] Carolyn Cofield: It was a brand new breast cancer. They told me it wasn’t the same. It was a brand new breast cancer in the opposite breast. And I handled it the same exact way. Um, I had a double mastectomy opposed to a lumpectomy. I didn’t want to have to go through this all over again. Um, You know, we, we, we got the double mastectomy done, but due to COVID, you know, I had to, the progress of the reconstruction took a little bit longer, so no chemo and no radiation this
[00:11:26] Adam Walker: time.
[00:11:27] Adam Walker: Okay. Okay. Well, so, wow. I mean, that’s a lot to handle and I’m just super impressed with how you were, you were able to deal with that. So, So let’s talk about an another thing you did sort of during this time. Um, so, so at what point did you think, okay, I’ve got to get my daughter and my niece and my sister’s looking into genetic testing.
[00:11:49] Adam Walker: And how did, how did that go?
[00:11:52] Carolyn Cofield: Okay. So that, that actually the very first time that I had breast cancer, I was like really motivated to make sure my daughter. Um, especially my daughter to be able to make a choice for herself on this situation, because I, I know that that BRCA two gene, if it’s positive and you’re in your body, you, you could potentially develop breast cancer.
[00:12:25] Carolyn Cofield: I wanted my daughter to have the tests done. And, um, they were telling us that she can not have the test done unless I had the test and I tested positive. So of course I was like, well, I had breast cancer. You know, that doesn’t really mean anything. You have to be, you have the gene. So I took the test. Of course I was.
[00:12:48] Carolyn Cofield: My daughter was positive when my daughter was positive. That’s when I was like, you know what? I called all my sisters and brothers because they were, you know, my, my, um, my, uh, healthcare team was telling me that men could have the breast cancer as well. Um, so I let them all know. I let all my nieces know.
[00:13:07] Carolyn Cofield: You know, my, my niece, Janae, she was like, I’m on it, auntie. So once mine was positive, Brianna was positive. My, my nieces was positive and two of my sisters also were positive.
[00:13:19] Adam Walker: Wow. That is, I mean, it, it’s really amazing that you advocated for your family that way, right. To, to, to make sure that they’re taken care of, at least they know.
[00:13:31] Adam Walker: What all of there are the options and choices are that’s, that’s really profound. So Sabrina, let let’s just talk about your experience for a minute. So take us through what was going on in your life at the time and walk us through the emotions of finding out that you were also a BRCA two positive and making the decision to have a double Maseca mastectomy at such a young age.
[00:13:51] Brianna Cole: Well, I was actually still in college when I, well, obviously, yeah, still I was still in college and I was home for, I think it was Thanksgiving break and that’s when I had my test and I kind of figured that mine was going to be positive. Not only because of my mom and my grandmother, but on my dad’s side.
[00:14:12] Brianna Cole: I also had two aunts that passed away at a very young age from breast cancer. They were around the same age that I was, which, um, when I had my double mastectomy, I was only 24 and I wanted to get it as soon as possible before graduation and everything. And my doctor was telling me, no,
[00:14:30] Carolyn Cofield: just graduate late, late, late.
[00:14:33] Carolyn Cofield: And
[00:14:33] Brianna Cole: I got it right after I graduated a couple months after I graduated. It was really no question for me. I was like, do I want to. Remove these little boobs that I already have, or keep them and possibly die from them. Why would I want to keep something on me that could possibly kill me when I have so much life to live?
[00:14:55] Brianna Cole: So the decision was really simple for
[00:14:57] Adam Walker: me. Wow. That’s I mean, it’s still, that’s a, that’s a brave decision, uh, and, and really, uh, really impressive that you were able to make it so, you know, so decisively. Right. Um, so, so I guess where the question is for both of you, I mean, are you. Happy with the decisions that you’ve made and what has it been like to go through the process together?
[00:15:20] Carolyn Cofield: It’s um, I’m definitely happy with the decisions that I made. Um, of course I wish I would have had a double mastectomy the very first time that I had breast cancer. You know, I was thinking of my husband and, you know, different things. I just, I just felt like that wasn’t necessary. Um, but with, with the choices that I’ve made, it is not only helped my daughter, but I also advocate at my church every year.
[00:15:51] Carolyn Cofield: Our pastor has me, you know, I’ll go up breast cancer awareness month in October, and I, you know, give a little speech about breast cancer and tell the ladies and men to go ahead and. Get those mammograms advocate for yourself. If you do have it and get things taken care of.
[00:16:12] Adam Walker: Yeah. And Brianna, I think based on what you just said, you’re, you’re probably happy with your decision.
[00:16:16] Adam Walker: Do you want to talk a little,
[00:16:19] Brianna Cole: I’m happy with mine? I mean, the only thing that I missed out on was breastfeeding, but I hear that that’s pretty rough and hard. Um, I have a two year old, so I think the hardest part for my mom, I would say was when she actually got her. A double mastectomy. She wasn’t able to pick him up and love on him.
[00:16:42] Brianna Cole: But, um, I think by me getting mine first, it kind of helped her know that it was gonna be okay because I, I stopped taking my medicine after about two. Uh, after about three days I left the hospital within 24 hours. I was up there on the stage. Six days after with her at church speaking right after my surgery with drains in my dress.
[00:17:07] Brianna Cole: But I think we both help each other to get through those things. Um, she showed me the strength before I knew I was even positive. And I, I think I showed her the strength by going ahead and getting mine. So it was really, probably no question for her to really think about it once the second time came
[00:17:26] Carolyn Cofield: around.
[00:17:28] Carolyn Cofield: Mother-daughter duo action.
[00:17:31] Adam Walker: Y’all are y’all are an amazing mother daughter duo for sure. I mean, just such an amazing interview, so inspiring, and I just really appreciate your perspective and just your courage and all of this. So, uh, so I guess really last question. What’s your final piece of advice that you’d like to give to any of our listeners?
[00:17:50] Carolyn Cofield: Um, my final piece is the same that I tell everyone all the time. You know, take care of yourself. You gotta, you know, those exams every month, have your husband do your exam, you know, get your mammograms, do not do the thing that I did was like procrastinating. You get your mammograms every year. And, and for those who have a history of breast cancer have mammograms before you.
[00:18:18] Carolyn Cofield: 50 years old start early. Um, and just, just really take care of yourself because you know, both Brianna and I, we have friends that are struggling right now and suffering through this battle. But as I always say, I have scars, I have many scars from breast cancer and I love them because they’re battle wounds and it lets me know that I won the war.
[00:18:41] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s fantastic. Brianna, do you have any, any final thoughts you’d like to.
[00:18:46] Brianna Cole: I can’t tell that
[00:18:51] Brianna Cole: just like she said, I mean, I guess on my end, cause I’ve, I’ve actually been through the surgery and I’ve actually been through being a support system and. That support system is really important. I believe because I think if my mom was missing those check needs and she wasn’t feeling herself, that that would have been a little bit tough.
[00:19:13] Brianna Cole: So I think it’s important to treat your family members the same. Um, don’t treat them like they’re sick, you know? You know that they are, but still treat them like they’re them and give them that life that you can give them while they still have it and, and give them motivation to continue their life and continue, continue their fight.
[00:19:33] Brianna Cole: Um, because it’s not just them fighting. It’s you, you’re fighting with your family. You’re fighting with your friends. They don’t fight alone.
[00:19:40] Adam Walker: Well, that’s just fantastic advice. I can’t tell you. Inspiring, uh, this conversation has been and just thank you both so much for sharing your story and for joining me on the show today.
[00:19:52] Carolyn Cofield: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you so much for having.
[00:19:56] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to real pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen for more episodes, visit real pink.com and.org for more on breast cancer. Visit komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at new J Walker or my blog, Adam J walker.com.