Caroline Richardson's Story
Relentless, courageous, fierce, determined warrior - sounds like words to describe a decorated Army general or a world conqueror. Well, kind of.
Her name was Caroline, and she was a friend, a volleyball coach, a mentor, wife, mother and hero. Her battle with ovarian cancer was truly the stuff that only heroes face. Tragically, this ruthless and unforgiving enemy took her from those she loved way before her time.
Her battle began in November 2014. Caroline, a physical education teacher, went to a physical education conference. Upon her return, she relayed that a young presenter was introducing a new type of workout. She was furious that even though he tried to get all of the participants to practice the workout, most went back to their phones, or left - but not Caroline. She tried the new program. Back home though, she thought that she had pulled or strained a muscle in her lower ribcage area during the workout and started home remedies, as she was trained to do. With no improvement after a week, she decided to see the family doctor. Based on the location, they both agreed it must be a muscle strain or tear, and she should give it another week to improve. After two weeks with no improvement, she insisted on an MRI.
On December 24th, 2014, our lives changed forever. The MRI report was devastating news – cancer, in the ovaries, abdomen, liver, kidney, and the fluid around her heart. Stage IV without a single symptom. She had, in fact, been to her OB/GYN only a month before. But, this snake in the grass cannot be detected via normal examination, and insurance companies are reluctant to pay for an internal sonogram for those who show no symptoms.
Caroline’s family had a history of cancer. Her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at 48. After 15 years cancer-free, she was diagnosed with bladder cancer and died two years later. Her brother was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was 58 and died seven years later. Knowing this, Caroline stayed physically active, ate healthy and organic foods, didn’t smoke, and avoided all the factors that put you at risk for cancer. She routinely got physicals. But this silent killer was lurking and growing where most physicals don’t explore, symptom-free until it was too late.
On January 12th, 2015, she underwent major surgery. Everything that could be removed without endangering her life was removed, along with numerous, visible tumors in her abdomen. The next year consisted of three different chemo cocktails that had little to no effect on the cancer but did have a litany of side effects ranging from hair loss, nausea, sleeplessness and severe constipation. Trips to Roswell, Sloan-Kettering, and Dana Farber, always brought the same message - “If only we had found it sooner…” I cannot describe what it’s like to be sitting in the doctors’ office, holding the hand of the one you love most in the world, while she is told there is nothing they can do for her.
Caroline fought the battle of her life against an opponent that rarely loses. She fought with courage, with determination, and with dignity - qualities that she tried to instill in all of us. You could see it in the eyes of her volleyball players when she crossed the court to hug them shortly after her major surgery, and you could see in her eyes that the strength and support of her players kept her going. Her volleyball program founded the Spike Teal event - a night of volleyball, raffles, games, fellowship and love. The event has raised about $27,000 for the Hope for Heather Foundation.
Why am I sharing her story? Because awareness is our best tool to make sure that our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and everyone has the knowledge and resources at their disposal for early detection. Knowing what Coach went through should inspire us all to take care of ourselves and each other. A message she wanted to pass on to all women is that when you get a gynecological exam, insist on an internal sonogram. That’s the only way you can detect ovarian cancer early enough to potentially beat this insidious disease. Insist it!
I don’t know why the love of my life was taken from me, her family, volleyball family, and friends. Watching her struggle to stay strong when every fiber of her being was in pain, watching this vibrant and strong-willed women slowly wither and fade, watching her young students and players visit and leave in tears, was beyond devastating. There are no words to describe the helplessness you feel when someone you love is slowly being taken from you.
She touched so many lives in a positive way, and her death can continue to touch lives by passing on her message get regular check-ups and insist on an internal sonogram.