By DEBBIE FLESSNER
At 39, Carrie Newton May had never had a mammogram.
For a woman her age, that’s not unusual. Doctors say only women over age 40 need regularly scheduled mammograms. And then only every two years through age 50.
But in March of 2018, Carrie found a lump in one of her breasts.
Carrie was concerned enough about the lump that she underwent a digital mammogram. It revealed news she had never expected to hear. She had signs of Stage 0 cancer, or pre-cancerous cells.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Stage 0 breast cancer, or ductal carcinoma in situ, is a non-invasive cancer where abnormal cells have been found in the lining of the breast milk duct. The organization’s definition states that in Stage 0 breast cancer, the atypical cells have yet to spread outside of the ducts or lobules into the surrounding breast tissue.
That led her to visit a plastic surgeon and a breast surgeon. She was told the carcinoma was in the breast and had not spread. So one month later, she had a mastectomy, but by that time, it had spread to her lymph nodes.
Though some aggressive cancers can spread rapidly, it’s likely Carrie actually had cancer for five to 10 years, her surgeon told her. After surgery, she began chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Carrie grew up in Venice, the daughter of Tim and Mary Newton — owners of Newton Supply & Scaffolding, which rented construction equipment. She was a star athlete on Venice High School’s volleyball and softball teams all four years she attended, and after graduation, went on to play college softball at Columbus State University for two years, and then at Florida Southern College for the remainder of her college career.
She stayed in Lakeland after earning her degree in education and taught school for three years, after which she moved back to Venice to help out her father in his store. She was thinking about taking over the family business.
But after her parents decided to sell Newton Supply around 2007 and move to Rutherfordton, North Carolina, Carrie didn’t want to live that far away from them, so she took another teaching job about 45 minutes south of Atlanta, Georgia.
That’s where — two years later — she met Matthew May, the man who would become her husband. When Carrie underwent surgery in July of 2018, and during the treatments that followed, Matthew and her parents were by her side.
She said she chose to undergo treatment at the MD Anderson Center in Atlanta, rather than the internationally renowned Cancer Treatment Centers of America, because she felt it was more intimate and personal.
“I started chemotherapy in August, and then I actually went back to work teaching in November,” she said. “Because I had some healing to do, my radiation didn’t start until March of this year. My last chemo was on Jan. 18 and now I’m undergoing immunotherapy, which gets the good cells to attack the bad.”
Now 40, Carrie’s prognosis for a full recovery is very good. Her surgeons and other doctors say her age and great physical condition are assets in her recovery.
Carrie said that in her mind, she’s 100 percent cancer-free right now. She has moments when she feels a little twinge of something and calls her doctor to ask about it. But she says she is incapable of living in fear. She asserted several times during an interview that her parents — who moved to Georgia to be near her — and her husband continue to amaze her with the love and support they have given her throughout the diagnosis and recovery process.
When asked what advice she would offer to other women going through a similar health ordeal, Carrie stressed the importance of remaining positive. Medical experts have long advised that positive thoughts and emotions have a direct correlation to successful physical healing.
“Definitely continue to have a positive attitude, because you can’t succumb to the pressure,” she said. “Ask all the questions that come to mind, and most importantly, take time to reflect on the things are really meaningful in your life.”