Faces of a Warrior: Carla Hill

Stories of Surviving and Thriving

July 24, 2016

Age: 44
Profession: Education & Outreach Manager for South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center 
Type of Breast Cancer: Triple Negative
Year of Diagnosis: 2005 (stage 2 with mastectomy of right breast) and 2007 (caught early - chose mastectomy of left breast)
Number of years as a survivor: 9 years
Relationship to Susan G. Komen: Race Participant

My name is Carla and I am a breast cancer survivor. I discovered a lump in my right breast as I was getting ready for my cousin’s wedding. The lump immediately frightened me for two reasons. First, it seemed to appear out of nowhere and my mother was a breast cancer survivor.

I was 33 at the time and beginning to feel pretty confident in my own skin. I had a standing appointment with my hairstylist to blow out my prized, long, shiny, dark hair every two weeks. Having had a kidney transplant just five years before, there was no way that I could have cancer. All I kept thinking was, “Who gets a new organ and then has to do chemo? It’s either one or the other, right?”

I quickly learned breast cancer doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve been through. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and felt much more angry than sad. I had been a “good girl” all of my life. I said no to drugs as instructed when I was a teen. I never smoked and exercised pretty regularly. Why was this happening to me? What would happen to my prized hair? 

When my mom, Hazel, went through cancer, she didn't share all of the details of her journey with my brother Stephen or me. I do remember that she was isolated in a room while her stem cells where being harvested for a new treatment. I recall her plucking clumps of hair out of her scalp into tufts that could fill a pillow. But somehow she found the strength to drive with our stepfather, Walter, to Tallahassee to see me graduate from Florida State University. Looking back now, I recognize that it was with breathless, sheer determination that she fought to be here for our family. 

My surgeon, Dr. Frederick Moffat, cemented the new attitude I needed to adopt when he told me that my cancer fight was not just about medicine, it was a mental game as well. After that first meeting with him, I decided to change my entire way of thinking in order to live the longest life possible.

Before my first round of chemo, my husband Marlon set up a private appointment with his barber for me to shave off my beloved hair. I would still be a "girly girl." The new girly me would have more of a Grace Jones edge, that's all. Grace is tough, no nonsense, and is sexier than any full-breasted, long-haired woman. With my mother as the foundation, Grace's persona would help to define the "new normal" I was about to encounter. 

Now, nine years later, I use my role as a survivor to show all women that we shouldn't be defined by society's standards of beauty or femininity. Even without my breasts (I did not choose reconstruction), I continue to be a make-up and fashion loving woman. Being a survivor has allowed me the opportunity to be voice and example for those women whose self-esteem has been knocked down by cancer. Even those friends who are "well" have complimented me on the way I've chosen to live life on my terms. 

I refused to let my breast-less physique rob me of my favorite thing in the world - parading in the streets for the Trinidad & Tobago Carnival. I dress in the feathered and rhinestone clad bikini-style costume just like all of the other women in the giant masquerade procession. In addition to having no breasts, I have a scar on my abdomen from my 2000 kidney transplant. I strut my own brand of femininity down the streets and boulevards with only the sweet soca and calypso music as my guide. I don't bother with trying to fake breasts with my prosthesis. Why should I? It would only get in the way of my ability to really, as Trin-Bagonians say, "free up" myself. I want to let go and jump and celebrate without any hindrance!

I'd describe my breast cancer journey as one big bacchanal. For some, this word might conjure chaos. I won’t deny that the journey can still be challenging and sprinkled with moments of anxiety. In the context of my Trinidad & Tobago culture, the word bacchanal can also be a joyous time in which your whole soul is enveloped in a feeling of pure bliss. And nothing matters except that you're alive and dancing and "freeing up yourself." That is how I choose to live my life now.

About the Faces of a Warrior Campaign

Last year, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Komen Miami/Ft. Lauderdale Race for the Cure®, Susan G. Komen Miami/Ft. Lauderdale teamed with 101.5 LITE FM to launch the Faces of a Warrior campaign. 

To mark the 21st Annual Race for the Cure®, Komen is spotlighting 21 survivors to represent each year the Race has run. These individuals are sharing their stories of strength and resilience -- not just of surviving breast cancer, but thriving in spite of it.

Read the stories of more Warriors here

For more information on the Faces of a Warrior campaign -- and other ways you can get involved in the Race for the Cure® -- please email info@komenmiaftl.org or call 954-909-0454