57-Year Breast Cancer Survivor to Celebrate 90th Birthday

Written By:Stacy Simon

"I feel extremely excited getting ready to celebrate my 90th birthday. No way under God's green earth I thought I would live this long. I have an active, busy, healthy, wonderful life, and a wonderful family."

Carol Stevens

Breast cancer survivor Carol Stevens says she’s going to enjoy every minute of her upcoming birthday party. “I feel extremely excited getting ready to celebrate my 90th birthday,” said Stevens. “No way under God’s green earth I thought I would live this long. I have an active, busy, healthy, wonderful life, and a wonderful family.”

Stevens was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1957 when she was 33 years old. She and her oldest daughter had traveled from their home in Pennsylvania to visit a specialist in New York City because of concerns that her daughter had a brain tumor. While at the hospital, Stevens arranged to have herself examined as well, because she’d found a lump in her breast. Test results showed that Stevens’ daughter did not have a tumor, but Stevens did.

In 1957, breast cancer treatment was much different than it is today. The standard surgical treatment was a radical mastectomy, which is removal of the entire breast, lymph nodes, and some muscles of the chest wall under the breast. Today, this type of surgery is rarely needed to treat breast cancer. Instead women with breast cancer can choose among less drastic kinds of surgery. The surgeon also removed Stevens’ ovaries as part of her breast cancer treatment. This is rarely done today, and instead other forms of hormone therapy, as well as additional treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy are common. What’s more, in Stevens’ day, women often underwent the surgery for a breast lump without knowing in advance whether they’d be having their breast removed or not.

“You had to go in with that understanding – if it was cancer – so you had no warning,” said Stevens. “Six hours later I came out of surgery with no breast. It was cancer.”

Stevens says her attitude about the outcome of her trip to New York was strangely positive. A mother of 4, she’d learned her daughter didn’t have a brain tumor, and now would no longer have to worry about becoming pregnant again. In addition, Stevens’ doctor prescribed a “treatment” that Stevens wholeheartedly embraced.

“I was told when I got home not to get tired,” said Stevens. “Every 2 weeks, hire a babysitter and go out to dinner with my husband. And put up my feet for 10 minutes every day.”

Living life, loving life

Although doctors gave Stevens just 5 years to live, once she got home from the hospital she says she didn’t really dwell on it. After all, she had 4 children to take care of, the youngest just a baby and the oldest a teenager. “You get up every morning and count your blessings,” said Stevens. “I have something on my computer that says there is a reason God limits our days: to make each one precious. And that’s what I do.”

Once her children were older, Stevens went back to school and earned her master’s degree in education. She became a remedial reading specialist and eventually a dynamic administrator in the school system, pushing hard for reading programs across the district. She retired at age 69, and then consulted until age 72.

Though she retired, she didn’t slow down. One of her lifelong dreams was to ride an elephant in Africa. At age 83, after her husband passed away, Stevens began traveling the world with her youngest daughter, beginning with that trip to Africa and a ride on an elephant named Danny. Next November, Stevens and her daughter are headed to the Amazon.

“If you don’t have any belief in life, this makes you have it because I have been so lucky and so healthy,” said Stevens. “Being 90 to me is almost unbelievable. I’m still actively working and driving and doing everything.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

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