“When you hear the words, ‘You have breast cancer,’ it’s horrifying.”
In 2014, Arlene M. Karole, CHCP ’83CBA heard those words. However, today, Ms. Karole, an Adjunct Professor in the Hospitality Management program at The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, is cancer free.
She recently wrote a book, Just Diagnosed, about her cancer journey that she hopes empowers others facing a similar diagnosis.
Ms. Karole serves as Director of the Office of Academic Engagement, Education, and Communications in the Department of Cardiology at Northwell Health and has enjoyed a long career working in large health systems and nonprofits.
“I felt this little pin prick in my right breast and a little ache under my right arm,” Ms. Karole recalled. “I knew something wasn’t right.”
Nothing was detected after two mammograms and an ultrasound. Undeterred, Ms. Karole sought out more opinions and tests. Still, nothing was found. Finally, magnetic resonance imaging detected something, and on a Friday, Ms. Karole was told she needed a breast needle biopsy, a computed tomography chest scan, and a biopsy of her lymph nodes.
“I was absolutely sick to my stomach, and it was just a terrible weekend,” she said.
She underwent all of the requisite tests and was told she had ductal carcinoma in situ, an early stage of breast cancer. She noted that while doctors can explain the available options, it was ultimately her responsibility to “take control” of her diagnosis.
“You feel very powerless when you get that diagnosis,” she said.
After extensive research, she opted for a mastectomy. Life ground to a halt, and Ms. Karole endured six weeks of painful recovery and physical therapy.
“An experience like this makes you look within and reorient your priorities,” she emphasized. “You have to find meaning in the journey. It was jarring to hear those words, but it changed my life for the better.”
Since then, Ms. Karole has focused on her overall health and wellness, making diet, exercise and practicing mindfulness and meditation a priority. In her book, she opens and closes each chapter with an inspirational quote. One of her favorites is an Indian proverb: “Everyone is a house with four rooms: a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time, but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.”
“Breast cancer, almost like COVID, makes us turn inward. If you had just a few days more to live, what would you think about? We shouldn’t wait for a diagnosis to think about these things. We should think about them every day.”
Ms. Karole called Just Diagnosed her “accidental book.” Throughout her journey, while going to various doctor’s appointments, she furiously took notes, first on yellow sticky notes and then on larger loose-leaf pads. She eventually copied them into a notebook and then typed them into a computer. Before she knew it, she had 63,000 words of copy.
Ms. Karole was encouraged throughout the entire process by a good friend. “She said this was all about advocacy, and I should write this book to help other women get through their experience.”
Volunteering has also become an important part of Ms. Karole’s life. She is on the Survivorship Committee of the National Consortium of Breast Centers, Inc. Ms. Karole also works with SHARE Cancer Support, a national nonprofit that supports, educates, and empowers women affected by breast, ovarian, uterine or metastatic breast cancer, with a special focus on medically underserved communities. She is one of their hotline volunteers and answers questions for those who are often recently diagnosed.
This experience has taught Ms. Karole the importance of an effective work-life balance. “I love my job, but being diagnosed with breast cancer made me change my lifestyle somewhat. It made me improve my diet and not be so stressed out all of the time. You have to take what you have and find meaning going forward. We are here for a period of time and must make the most of it.”
For more information, please visit: amkjustdiagnosed.com
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