Judy Carpenter became a breast cancer patient in 2021 under the care of local doctors and specialists after almost accidentally discovering a lump in her left breast.
She moved to Kerrville with her parents and family when she was in the seventh grade in 1969, and is a Tivy High graduate, class of 1974. She’s married now with two grown children.
“I haven’t been diligent about self-exams. And my 2020 mammogram was fine,” Carpenter said.
“I went to visit our grown son in the Dallas area last June, and he lives where they have very soft slippery water – not like ours here. I was taking a shower and trying to get all that slick water off of me, and felt something I hadn’t noticed before.
“I felt a hard lump in my left breast, and I thought, ‘That’s not normal.’ And when I got home, I called my doctor for an exam.”
Carpenter said her doctor sent her for another mammogram, plus an ultrasound.
“When they got the results of those tests, I got an appointment with Dr. Berg the next day.”
She said within two days she also had a biopsy done; and two days after that he called her to give her the bad news – yes, it was malignant; and he was scheduling her surgery for a lumpectomy soon after.
“When I went in for that, they put two tracers in my lymph nodes to be able to watch for 31 days to see whether any of the cancer cells had ‘traveled’ anywhere else,” she said. “At the end of that time, they told me none of the cancer cells had moved. But they also said if I had waited until my next regular mammogram in October, this would have been a totally different story.
“I tell everyone now to do their monthly checks,” Carpenter said. “And I’d rather know than not know.”
She said after her surgery, the doctors told her they sent off some of the tumor tissue “for more exacting tests.”
When the results came back from that, Carpenter was told the kind of cancer she got responds better to pills and to radiation, than to chemotherapy.
“I’m the first in my family to have this,” she said. “But now, my daughter who’s 35 years old, is going for mammograms. My cancer wasn’t hereditary. For her, it is.”
Carpenter recently started her radiation treatments in Dr. Valerian Chyle’s clinic in Kerrville; and those end Nov. 2.
“They told me that now (in recent years), they set up a different kind of schedule for radiation treatments. There are less days of this, but each treatment is a bit more intense.”
She has 21 total appointments lasting 15 minutes each; and five minutes each time is the actual application of the radiation.
As a result, she’s using some skin cream for the after-effects, choosing from a list of over-the-counter options they gave her at the clinic.
“I’ve been told the largest reaction usually comes after about three weeks. But so far I don’t have any side effects from the pills.”
Carpenter’s list of doctors has grown to include Drs. Elizabeth Wilfong, Timothy Berg, and Carpenter’s oncologist, Rebecca Barrington. (Everybody always calls her just “Dr. B,” she said.)
Carpenter described her decisions about discussing this with her grown son and daughter, too.
“I called my son-in-law Mitch first, to ask him if he’d plan to be home when I called to tell my daughter, because I didn’t know how she’d react,” Carpenter said. “Then I waited a day and called her. She took it pretty well over the phone, but Mitch told me there were tears later.”
She said her son handled the news okay.
“He’s a lot more like me,” she said. “I generally plan for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Carpenter said she tells others to be diligent and have regular mammograms. And she tells men to check themselves, too; and to remind their wives to do the same.
Carpenter got involved in a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society during this journey.
“A fundraiser called ‘Walk 35 miles in October’ popped up. I wanted to do it from the beginning, but I’m having another medical problem and will have to have knee surgery,” she said. “But as a cancer patient, I can have a ‘team.’ And I’ve recruited my family and friends including an uncle and nieces and nephews.”
Carpenter said her announced goal was 210 total miles walked in one month, based on even one family member or friend walking that 35 miles in one month.
She said the South Texas 35 Miles is a breast cancer challenge and there’s a team “dashboard” to compute and record her team’s mileage.
Carpenter finds out the mileage from each team member in what she calls a “nightly check-in.” The number of miles reported by each person is put on the website.
“I do that. They’re all willing to walk but they don’t want to do that part,” she said. “But we’re all talking every night.”
Among her family members, she has an aunt, an uncle who’s 78 years old, and her brother and sister-in-law are walking for her team.
“They’ve said it’s been good about getting them out of the house,” she said.
“And it’s encouraging to me, and motivates me to stick with these treatments,” she said.
When she started this, she said her goal was $300; and so far the team has raised, or others have donated, $1,250. Their gifts have ranged from $10 to $500 each.
Participants include her daughter in Florida; her son in Dallas; and others in Austin, and in Georgia and Colorado.
Carpenter said her team “Walk” ends Oct. 31.