Carol Chaoui, Wellesley, MA resident, wife, mother of four, B.A.A. runner and shining beacon of endless hope in the face of unrelenting adversity, lost her 11-year battle to cancer on Monday, Aug. 3.
Her resilience and joy for life was infectious and awe-inspiring to all that knew her, or of her.
A year after Carol was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive breast cancer, she participated in an interview with NER (replicated below) that appeared in the July/Aug 2010 edition of NER.
She would run the Boston Marathon with her husband and daughter in 2018 and the NYC Marathon with her daughter in 2019.
Carol Chaoui, aka Wonder Woman, along with her Superhero crew were the top team at the Cambridge Spring Classic just a few years ago. Photo by FitzFoto/NERunner
Profiles in Courage—Carol Chaoui
In 2004, Wellesley, MA resident Carol Chaoui , 46, took to the roads again after raising four children (now ages 7 to 15). When she signed up for NER six years ago we immediately noticed her name liberally sprinkled at the top of her age division in numerous races. A willowy 5-10 and adorned in the attire of the B.A.A., Carol was hard to miss. Life went on…until July 16 of 2009 when circumstances led to a horribly dark place. Diagnosed with stage 3 invasive breast cancer, the ensuing seven months of treatment subsided with little time to train for Boston (she had qualified in 3:23 the previous year). Undeterred, Carol helped raise $18K for Dana Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center at Faulkner Hospital, where she was originally diagnosed and where, ironically, her husband Amin works as a radiologist. Her feet numbed by “extreme” chemo at Boston, Carol took a nasty fall at 15-miles. As with every setback, she stopped, collected herself…and soldiered on.
NER: You got the bad news the same day you ran the Jim Kane Sugarbowl Race (July 16). You ran well so would it be fair to say you might have been OK physically but awash in emotions?
CC: I got the phone call on my cell an hour before I left to drive to the Jim Kane Sugar Bowl race with friends. I thought the adrenaline from the emotions would help me to run faster, but to be honest, I had not slept since my mammo/ultrasound and biopsies on the 14th. I ran 2-minutes slower than a 5-mile race I had run in Sharon two weeks prior. I think I still won my age group in Jim Kane (45-49) but my time (36:10) was off by quite a bit.
NER: Was disbelief pretty prevalent early-on? The idea that you might have had some form of the onset for five years – did you notice anything at all during the races you ran over that period? After the treatments started, how long did the bouts of chemo last?
CC: My life completely changed the day I left the hospital after all of the exams on July 14th. I thought I would have time after the routine mammo to run errands before picking up the kids from camp but was in total shock driving home. When I left the hospital that day, I remember the radiologist telling me, ‘We don’t think it’s cancer; it’s not “screaming” cancer but we want to be sure.” Once the tumors were removed and all of my lymph nodes were removed (half of them had cancer) and the pathology report came back, it was a different story. My oncologist estimates that I had it for at least 4-5 years. I only had vague symptoms of tenderness, which could also be cyclical and occasional pain but no palpable mass. The tumors were over 5cm in diameter, which was a shock to everyone involved in my care. Most likely all of my 7-marathons prior to Boston this year were run with some stage of breast cancer. I was diagnosed mid-July, had my mastectomy mid-August and then took four weeks off to recover. I started running again in mid-September, mostly slow jogs of 2-3 miles five days per week. I started chemotherapy in September. The first four cycles were of Adriamycin and Cytoxin and the last four were Taxol. The cycles were every other week. I finished on December 22nd and then had one month to recover before starting the “maximum sentence” of 7-weeks of daily radiation. The Taxol treatments were long. The actual infusion time is about 4-hours, but there is premedication to avoid allergic reactions, so often I was at Dana Farber for 6-8 hours every other Monday.
NER: You had the support of your family on one hand, and the escape of running on the other. Was that an ideal balance?
CC: Yes, I was lucky to have an amazing team of doctors, a loving family, a generous support community and my running. The running helped me on so many levels and going to races, being part of the running community was also wonderful. Friends from all around the area were so surprised to learn what I was going through and they were so supportive of my running.
NER: Is there anything your husband or children said or did that really sticks out in your mind…as a surprise, relief, strength?
CC: All of the children (and my husband!) were supportive, but the younger two were more curious about my treatments and surgery. One night when I was driving them to swim lessons at Wellesley College they were asking me why the cancer made me bald and they both said that they would invent a chemotherapy drug that did not make you lose your hair. My 7 year-old watched my husband give me my first two shots of Neulasta and then he gave me the last five shots. I think we were both equally nervous the first time.
Running the 2009 Tufts 10K.
NER: When did you start posting on the Lotsa Helping Hands website?
CC: I started posting on the website in September after my first cycle of chemo and tried to post updates after each treatment. I tried to be honest and open about what was happening while maintaining a sense of humor and an optimistic attitude. I also posted pictures from the different races as well as pictures of radiation treatment.
NER: Was the Tufts 10K in October a turning point for you? Doing ‘extreme’ chemo the lows had to be pretty bad, but Tufts seems to have been a liberating race.
CC: I suffered from severe headaches from the chemo and occasional nausea. I had to have a shot of Neulasta 24-hrs after each chemo treatment to stimulate the growth of healthy white blood cells. The side effects of this drug are severe bone and joint pain and that really interfered with my running on certain days. I would have to stop and bend over in pain and wait before continuing. Tufts was wonderful as I had not run that distance since June. I had a cap on for the first 5-miles and then just took it off. It felt amazing to be running bald and the crowds were so supportive. I was in tears running down Charles Street to the finish line and was excited to get a high five from Joan Benoit at the finish line. I think I even had negative splits that day! I also saw of lot of friends from other towns before the start of the race and they were unaware of my illness until they saw me on the starting line.
With a bloody arm and knees from an earlier fall, Carol turns onto Boylston in the 2009 Boston Marathon.
NER: The toxic aftermath of ‘chemo’ was evident at Boston when your feet went numb at mile 15. Can you comment on that? You finished in 4:01 but spent a lot of time with the medics.
CC: The Adriamycin is supposed to be the most toxic. It is a bright red chemo drug that the nurse puts directly into the vein. The nurse wears a “haz mat” style gown to prevent any from spilling on her! Apparently it can cause severe tissue damage. The Taxol has the unfortunate long-term side effect of severe neuropathy that can last from several months up to several years. The medics carried me to the sidewalk as my legs cramped up after the fall and I did not think I could get up by myself. They asked me questions such as, “What is your name?” “What year is it?” and then they cleaned off my cuts and let me go after about 10 minutes. I joked on my blog that I was tempted to answer “Betty Draper, 1963” since I am a fan of Mad Men, but I was afraid they would really take me away to the hospital. After I got back up and started running, I was bleeding a lot and both knees were swollen. I tried to focus on the finish line and finally did not have to walk at all. I just slowed down and tried to enjoy the last 11 miles. I was fortunate to see friends all along the course until mile 24. At the finish area, they gave me ice and then wheeled me into the medical tent to clean out all of the cuts. I had a 6-inch scrape on my right hip, both elbows and knees were badly cut and swollen and I had a 2-inch bruise on my face.
I struggled for a day or so with my Boston time. I think my “net” time was 3:49 but with the fall it was 4:01. My slowest marathon ever, but considering the treatments for the past 7-months and the lack of training, it was good to just finish. And this year of course was about raising awareness and funds for others. My oncologist sent me a 2-word email—“no regrets” post-marathon and that sums it up!
NER: Are you in remission right now? Beyond enjoying your family and life in general, do you see Boston in your future again – Tufts, Komen, Larry Robinson?
CC: I am taking Tamoxifen now for the next 5-years and have some follow up appointments with my team of doctors over the next six weeks. I had some bloodwork results that show some potential problems but I’m trying to stay positive and take one day at a time. During the Run to Remember 5M (May 30), I was reminded of my biggest struggle. I go to some of these races naively hoping to run the times I used to run. For example, in 2008 I ran this race in 33:40 and most likely had stage 2 cancer at that time. Now after treatment and 2-yrs. later, I am running 3-minutes slower. It is a huge mental battle for me (as well as physical) as the effort feels the same and I guess I am always left wondering if I will ever get back to running the times I ran pre-diagnosis. Maybe other runners with injuries or lack of training go through the same struggle? I plan on running the Boston Komen race in September. If I am feeling okay, I would love to run a marathon in October to lower my time for Boston. I will also run a few local 5K races that are fundraisers for cancer research.
PHOTO: Of the $600,000 Carol raised for Dana Farber over 11 years, a goodly chunk came from the wildly successful Wellesley Turkey Trot she founded and ran with friend and Somervill Road Runner Kate Maul (L).