Breast Cancer Survivor Honors Pharmacologist on Epic Kayak Journey

Carolyn Choate journeys 300 miles in a kayak to honor the pharmacologist who created the lifesaving aromatase inhibitor.

In the story of Carolyn Choate’s life, her hero didn’t wear a cape, but instead wore a lab coat.

Despite a diagnosis of aggressive breast cancer that doctors said could only leave her with 3 years to live, Choate’s story would not be over yet. She fought tooth and nail to beat the odds, undergoing a whirlwind of mastectomies and cancer treatments. But in the end, it was the work of a pharmacologist that would help to save her life.

Choate, 59, has embarked on a 300-mile kayaking journey to honor the woman who gave her a second chance, Angela Brodie, MD, who created the aromatase inhibitor.

Even though Choate was vigilant about receiving mammograms and conducting self-examinations, she was diagnosed with estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer in 2003 at the age of 45. Only a week after the initial appointment, Choate underwent a radical mastectomy, which revealed that the cancer had spread to 4 lymph nodes. After her surgeon told her she had a 75% chance of dying within 3 years, Choate’s world was shattered.

“I was speechless. I couldn't cry, I was just numb. My body was separated from myself and I saw myself in the corner of the room. I was just speechless,” Choate told Specialty Pharmacy Times.

After her oncologist instilled in her a sense of hope regarding new treatment options for advanced ER+ breast cancer, Choate’s attitude changed from one of resignation to determination.

In a blog post on Cure Magazine, Choate wrote, “With a ‘how do you do?’ like that, I became 100 percent convinced that the odds were in my favor. I kicked kicking the bucket, truly excited for all the summer adventures that lay ahead with my husband and our two young daughters. Whether camping on the lake or camping out at the infusion center ingesting ‘cocktails’ so exotic my hair fell out, my oncologist helped me see that it wasn't enough to merely accept treatment.”

Choate was administered a 4-week course of an Adriamycin and Cytoxan cocktail, followed by 4 weeks of docetaxel anhydrous (Taxotere) every other week, and radiation treatment. After this therapy, her oncologist recommended she take anastrozole (Arimidex), an aromatase inhibitor, which she believed saved her life, along with millions of other patients.

“I have felt that given everything I know now about my condition, the aromatase inhibitor saved my life,” she told SPT. “There's no doubt in my mind, knowing how big that tumor was, knowing how it spread, and that it was ER positive. I know that it did not recur as a result of the aromatase inhibitor.”

Once Choate realized that she had beaten the odds, she became interested in living life to the fullest extent, including hiking around the world to raise awareness and money for cancer research.

Around this time, Choate wrote the article for Cure, highlighting how some women complained about things that pale in comparison to battling cancer. Writing the article started her thinking about the person who created the drugs that cured her, specifically the aromatase inhibitor.

“It was just a fleeting thought at first, and then I got to thinking, it’s not just something randomly out there,” Choate told SPT. “You know Thomas Edison made the light bulb. Alexander Graham Bell made the telephone. We know who did that, but who made the aromatase inhibitor? Then I just became slowly obsessed with finding the person so that I could thank them.”

Through countless hours of searching, she came across Dr Brodie, who developed the drug in the 1970s; however, aromatase inhibitors were not taken seriously until the 1980s, when an oncologist took a chance on using the drug.

As it turned out, Dr Brodie was still working at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, so Choate sent an email with her article in Cure to thank her for her work. Following several emails, Choate traveled from New Hampshire to Maryland to meet Dr Brodie and her laboratory assistants.

When they met, Choate said that despite her significant accomplishments, Dr Brodie was quite humble.

“It was all about me. I don't think she's said many sentences about herself. She was totally involved with my life and my children, what I was doing, and what my experience was. She was just so modest,” Choate said.

Dr Brodie had a keen sense of adventure, as she climbed nearly every mountain in the world except Mount Everest, rode horses, hiked, and skied challenging mountains.

Unfortunately, Dr Brodie passed away in June 2017. To honor Dr Brodie’s life, accomplishments, and to reflect her adventurous spirit, Choate is embarking on the River of Life: Tribute Challenge. Choate has also been working to raise $500,000 for an endowment that will allow Dr Brodie’s lab to continue their work.

On the journey for the River of Life, Choate and her daughter, Sydney Turnbull, will kayak 300 miles from New Hampshire to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, following the epic tradition portrayed in classic literature.

In keeping with that tradition—but to also make it her own—during the trip, Choate will honor the pharmacologist who saved her life and the lives of countless other patients who have had breast cancer.

At each stop along the Epic Kayak Journey, Choate and her daughter will meet and conduct interviews with the media and organizations that have truly made a difference in the oncology world.

Tomorrow, August 19, 2017, Michael J. Hennessey & Associates, the parent company for both Specialty Pharmacy Times and Cure Magazine, will be honored for its accomplishments and contributions to the cancer community.

At the end of her journey, on August 28, 2017, Choate will be honored as the Hometown Hero at the Baltimore Orioles game, where she will be joined by Dr Brodie’s husband. Her entire journey, including the interviews, will be covered by the University of Maryland.

When asked what she hopes to gain from this journey, Choate told SPT, “I hope to give from this trip…I hope to give the world Dr Angela Brodie.”

For more information about the journey visit:

https://medschool-umaryland.givecorps.com/projects/28927-department-of-pharmacology-the-river-of-life-journey-supporting-breast-cancer-research

http://www.medschool.umaryland.edu/development/RiverOfLife/

https://www.facebook.com/RiverOfLifeKayak4BC/