The Maine Breast Cancer Coalition is heartbroken at the recent loss of long-time volunteer member, Carmen Darkis. When Carmen was 19 years old, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away at the age of 62, just four short years later. It was at this time that cancer changed Carmen’s life forever.
Carmen’s connection to breast cancer became personal when she was diagnosed in 1988. Carmen had a mastectomy and soon after surgery, joined the support group “Encore” at the YWCA. In her own words “the support group helped me cope, educated me about my cancer, enabled me to make new friendships…It was very much a learning experience for me and I wasn’t afraid anymore to talk about breast cancer. It also helped me cope with life at my workplace.”
In 1993, Carmen was again diagnosed, this time with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and despite being in constant treatment, in 1998 she decided that it was time to stop talking about breast cancer and do something about it. She signed up as a volunteer member of the Maine Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC). During her 20 years as a faithful MBCC advocate and volunteer, Carmen was actively involved in the work of the Coalition. For 12 years, she held the office of secretary, and when the Maine Breast Cancer Coalition established our Support Service Fund in 2000, Carmen - passionate about the mission to help financially assist women and men who were diagnosed with breast cancer or had other breast health related needs - jumped in with both feet. She found great fulfillment in sitting on the Support Service Fund Committee which oversaw that fund - right up until metastatic breast cancer robbed her from us earlier this month.
During her time with the Maine Breast Cancer Coalition, Carmen made three trips to the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Advocate Conference in Washington, D.C. and lobbied on Capitol Hill to encourage Maine’s congressional delegation to enact policies impactful to the lives of those living with and at risk of breast cancer.
In 2012, Carmen was the recipient of the "Lifetime Inspiration Award", awarded by the Maine Cancer Foundation to "an individual who has achieved success above and beyond the ordinary in the fight against breast cancer in Maine." She was nominated by long-time friend, Robin Long of Caring Connections at the Bangor Y. Robin had this to say when she nominated Carmen in 2012: “For close to 20 years Carmen has been on some kind of breast cancer treatment. I find her inspirational because, in her own words, ‘I don't let the cancer live my life, I live my life because I love being alive.’ In spite of being in treatment almost continously for the last two decades, she has done the things she enjoys. She is always willing to speak with someone who has been newly diagnosed with metastatic disease, providing a postive and hopeful message.”
This is just who Carmen was…positive…hopeful…strong. Even though she had no idea where her strength came from, she was a miracle who beat the odds (and 3-year average life expectancy for being diagnosed stage 4 metastatic) by living with metastatic breast cancer for 25 years. She didn’t just live, she thrived. She was actively involved in our work right up until the very end and will be greatly missed when we convene for our next face-to-face meeting in June. There is no doubt that looking ahead, much of our MBCC mission will be compelled forward under the motivation of being “for Carmen.”
Finally, we would like to leave you with a message to anyone out there who has been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer from Carmen herself: “Because there are so many different kinds of breast cancers, everybody is so different. What is right for one woman might not be right for another. Communicate with your oncologist. Let him/her know how you feel and be your own advocate or if you can’t, let a family member be one for you. I believe that everyone should live their life one day at a time and to the fullest, and always remember that quality of life means more than quantity.” Carmen fully embodied this message every single day of her life – before and after her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis - and we will continue to carry on our mission in her memory and honor.
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