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Vice Mayor talks challenges of beating breast cancer

By: Amanda Calzada for the Press Tribune
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The statistic 1.5 million starts with one.

That’s been true in the story of 5th generation Roseville resident Carol Garcia: Currently the city’s Vice Mayor, Garcia founded Placer Breast Cancer Endowment, which has now raised $1.5 million for the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

Placer Breast Cancer Endowment celebrated the 7th annual Hot Pink Fun Run on Roseville’s Vernon Street on Sept. 28. Garcia, chair of the endowment, was diagnosed of breast cancer at age 39 after doing her regular self-checks.

Garcia has been a community banker in Roseville for 34 years, and currently serves as the senior vice president with Community 1st Bank. On Dec. 10, she will be sworn in as Roseville’s mayor through the end of 2016. 

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes into full swing, The Press Tribune caught up with Garcia to discuss awareness of the disease and life as a survivor.

PT: At what stage and year did you defeat breast cancer?

Garcia: They say that if you can reach the five-year mark after going through treatments and surgery, you can consider yourself cancer clear. For me, that would have been 2004, at the age of 44.

PT: What is something most people do not know about surviving breast cancer?

Garcia: As you experience the stages of cancer from diagnosis to considering yourself clean and cancer free, there are a number of thoughts and feelings that you experience which are hard to explain. It’s almost as if your mind becomes removed at times from your body and you are looking inward to determine who and what is important in your life which brings a new perspective to living or dying.

PT: How has breast cancer affected your life since to your diagnosis?  

Garcia: Since experiencing cancer, I find that decisions are made quicker and more definitive.

PT: How do you prioritize your health now?

Garcia: I am good now about not putting regular check-ups on hold. Also, with our current change in national health care system, everybody has to be aggressive and responsible for managing their own health.  

PT: When, and at what stage in your treatment, were you motivated to start up Placer Breast Cancer Endowment?

Garcia: I finished my surgeries in 2002 and a friend of mine, Teri Munger, who also is a breast cancer survivor, and I started Placer Breast Cancer Endowment in 2005 with the intent to endow a Breast Cancer Chair through UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and raise $1.5 million for breast cancer research.  We met our goal this past April of 2014.

PT: You had the gift of turning something as devastating as a terminal illness into something as beautiful as an endowment that will impact many lives to come. What advice do you have for others to stay optimistic and inspired in the midst of personal hardship?

Garcia: People experiencing cancer and going through treatment need to keep a positive spirit and stay true to their faith. Nobody should ever have to experience cancer alone, and there are numerous support groups and individuals who stand ready to help cancer patients.

PT: What advice do you have for women and men to stay free of breast cancer?

Garcia: I can’t say enough about the importance of performing regular self-checks to determine if there are any unusual lumps or nodules that may need further checking.

PT: What did you learn from going through breast cancer?

Garcia:  I learned that life is so fragile and you need to appreciate each day that you are alive. My patience is a little better now, and I’m not sure if that is from surviving breast cancer of just getting older.

PT: How would you like to see breast cancer treatment revolutionized?

Garcia: I want to see an end to all cancers and that is the reason why Placer Breast Cancer Endowment was formed.  All of our monies raised is going to research.

PT:  What is the most overlooked aspect of breast cancer treatment?

Garcia: So often, family, friends, co-workers and neighbors are so focused on the breast cancer patient that they don’t ask or realize what their family must be experiencing.  There is so much emotion amongst spouses and children that needs to be addressed frequently during the cancer treatment period.