Carol Bailey of Benton always talked about hiking the Appalachian Trail, but never did it. One day, she was listening to the radio and heard about Bill Erwin, the first blind man to hike the entire trail. The man’s story inspired Carol to hike it one day, too.
In 2011, Carol was convinced by a friend to hike the Appalachian Trail together. When they tackled their first section of the trail, they may have ended up lost, but they learned a lot about hiking. Carol’s dream of completing the Appalachian Trail was put on hold when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, which had metastasized to her lymph nodes.
“I had a normal mammogram earlier in the year, but I discovered a lump and knew it had to be checked,” recalls Carol.
After being diagnosed, Carol met with doctors several times before a care plan was put in place. A few weeks later, she was scheduled for surgery. However, Carol didn’t feel like all her questions were getting answered by the doctors. When her daughter Josey decided to surprise her and return home to comfort Carol during her fight against cancer, Josey had some questions.
Carol explains, “Josey did her homework and wasn’t sure about the approach the doctors wanted to take. She urged me to get a second opinion.”
Carol made an appointment with Susan Branton, MD, breast surgeon at the Kathryn Candor Lundy Breast Health Center. She had Josey by her side to ask Dr. Branton all the tough questions.
“Josey grilled both doctors,” says Carol.
“They were great about it, and thought she was asking very thoughtful questions. I didn’t want her to put her life on hold, but she was so supportive.”
It wasn’t until her second opinion at the Breast Health Center that Carol felt she had a partner in her fight.
Dr. Branton had Carol start chemotherapy within a week. There was no more waiting, and Carol had Josey, as well as other family and friends, by her side the entire time.
“From the moment we walked through the door, I felt like I was in the right place,” says Carol. “Dr. Branton described a completely different care plan and explained it so thoroughly—she was clear and focused.”
Josey and Carol did their best to find joy in every day. They would create encouraging notes to place in the waiting area for those having treatment at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Williamsport. They dressed up for Halloween and found fun ways to spread optimism and a sense of gratitude to everyone they met. Carol continued hiking closer to home during treatment and could often be found along the Loyalsock Trail.
The staff at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center helped Carol with her positive outlook, too. The chemotherapy chairs overlook a beautiful garden, and volunteers stopped in to offer different services such as lunches, reading material, and hand massages to patients during treatment. Carol felt she was surrounded by supportive and caring friends.
“I built a personal relationship with the doctors and nurses,” says Carol. “I am not going to lie; it was hard at times. But I had so many amazing experiences as I went through treatment, and a lot of people surrounding me who gave me the gift of encouragement.”
After successful chemotherapy and with the support and expert surgical skills of Dr. Branton, Carol chose to have a double mastectomy.
Carol’s positive attitude during treatment turned into action after it was complete, and she resumed her dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. She hiked trails with her children and grandchildren, met new friends, and found a hiking partner who had already completed difficult sections of the trail.
On Thanksgiving eve 2018, Carol and her daughter Jessi hiked the final section of the trail together on Georgia’s Springer Mountain. Carol finally completed her dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“It was a wonderful adventure,” remembers Carol. “
"Hiking is my own personal medicine; it makes my heart sing,” says Carol.
Carol’s advice to others facing breast cancer is to talk with other people, listen to them as they share about their walk with cancer, and if you don’t feel comfortable in your walk—get a second opinion.
“Breast cancer is a personalized journey from the point of diagnosis to the evaluation of treatment options and the treatment itself, all the way through the recovery process,” says Carol. “I worked with my medical team to choose the options that were best for me.”