NFL cornerback shares advice on supporting breast cancer victims
NFL cornerback and Flint native, Brandon Carr, is the national football league’s (NFL) current leader for consecutive starts as a defenseman and was the highest drafted player in Grand Valley State University’s school history. But that is not the story he most wants to share. The one far more important to him, and the one that lives in his heart every single moment of every single day, is about his mother – Kathy Robinson Carr – who, at the young age of 59, passed away from breast cancer six years ago.
Brandon, a long-time friend of Ashley Richardson, DO, Comprehensive Breast Care breast surgeon, and her husband, Scott, offered to share his thoughts and advice to other families who are trying to deal with their loved one’s diagnosis of breast cancer in hopes of making their experience a little bit easier and a little more comforting.
Brandon Carr, the son, chose to move back home to Flint and miss football training camp so he could be with his mother during her final days.
When he talks about Kathy Carr, words like bravery, strength, kindness, compassion, devotion to family and love for her community flow freely.
“She taught me so many life lessons I will cherish forever,” he reflects.
“She fought her cancer for more than eight years and never let it get her down; she lived her life with strength and optimism right up until she passed away.”
Kathy Carr got hit with breast cancer twice. Through it all, she remained dedicated to her life as an educator, a mother of two boys and a wife. Her focus never waivered; it always was on her family, not her health.
“Her life was very demanding, but the communication and synergy at home was amazing,” Brandon recalls. “My mother was a kind soul; she wanted the best for her boys; it was not about winning or losing.”
The first time Kathy received the news of her cancer, Brandon was a student at Grand Valley State University. “I remember it like it was yesterday. She was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments while I was playing football, but she still would come to my games. She would watch them from my dorm room. And when I was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, it was such an amazing moment. My mom (and the entire family) was at my side; she knew there was more work to do for me, and for her with her battle, but she wouldn’t talk about herself. It was about me and my career.
“When I turned 25, we had a big barbecue in the backyard of my parents’ house in Flint. That was the day I proposed to my wife; I wanted my mom to share in our love,” Brandon announces.
In 2013, Brandon’s mother learned the cancer had returned and much more aggressively. “My dad called me, and I could hear his voice cracking; he never cried before.” His mother only had a short time left, he learned.
It was her wish that she had no more surgeries and no more treatments. She wanted to live the rest of her life as comfortably as possible in her home where she raised her boys.
And Kathy Carr’s wish was granted. She was at home with her family when she died.
“She was able to dance with me at my wedding in May of 2014, two months before she passed,” Brandon notes. “In fact, she took off her wig and threw it across the dance floor. She truly had a free mind and heart.”
On the day she died, “it seemed like a perfect day for her,” Brandon remembers vividly. “She had her hair and nails done, she put on the pearl necklace I gave her for my wedding, and she was smiling happily when I left for the local high school to train with my cousin. She insisted that we go. It wasn’t long after I left that my wife called to give me the news. It was her plan; she didn’t want us there when she passed away. What I remember is how beautiful she looked that morning.
“She was my rock,” Brandon says proudly. “Sometimes I sit back and reflect on her true strength and her true grit in raising two hard-headed boys, and her influence on our peers and kids along the way. I promise you I feel like it’s her and the man upstairs powering me in the direction they feel is best for me.”
It took several years before Brandon could talk about his mother without crying, he admits. “The NFL wasn’t my biggest challenge; it was watching my mother battle cancer for so many years and having no control over the outcome,” he finds.
“My mother taught me that I have to continue to try and live a great legacy and continue to motivate others and do great things. Her motivation impacted not just my brother and me, but also her grandchildren, the kids at school, and everyone she came across. I’m going to try to finish out her task,” he says with promise.
“I call this a victory for me, that my mom was such a strong fighter and full of courage. She stood tall in the midst of her cancer, in the midst of everything going bad for her health, and through it all, she still was able to experience life and her family. That is what it’s all about for me.
“My parents always tried to prepare me for situations happening in life … and death … all of the things you try not to think about,” Brandon adds. “You never understand it, but you have to continue to try to live a great legacy and motivate others to do the same.
“I know my mom would be an advocate for women of all ages getting the medical attention they need if they have cancer, and to spread awareness about preventive steps they can take.
Reflecting on his experience as a son watching his mother’s journey with breast cancer, Brandon shares this advice:
Openly talk about everything. Communication is so important. And turn the page. Love. Be there. Family needs to be together, to feel the love, the warmth and the energy. And think positively.
Be thankful. “I thank my mom every day for doing everything with grace. She had so much courage and so much faith in dealing with her illness. I know she is shining down on me, continuing to share her wisdom and strength.”
In 2012, Brandon launched Carr Cares Foundation in honor of his mother. The foundation was founded to inspire young students to achieve their full potential by practicing and perfecting their literacy and athletic skills, using the resources and tools provided through the foundation. Brandon regularly visits elementary schools to read to students in the same matter his mother taught him. “She would tell me – and her students – ‘get into a book. Reading is the most important building block in education.’”
Dealing with a loved one who has breast cancer? Here is more advice
We cannot take away the pain our loved one is feeling, but there are steps we can take to help you and your loved one manage this difficult experience a little easier.
- Focus on facts, not fear. Every cancer is different, and every cancer patient is different; focus on your loved one’s diagnosis and treatment, not on what you read from “Karen on Facebook.”
- Honor your loved one’s treatment decisions and support them.
- Try to keep a positive attitude. It can be hard, but it will help you and your loved one get through those tough times.
- Find time to relax and enjoy life. You need time to re-energize.
- Exercise regularly. It’s a great way to reduce stress.
- Get plenty of rest and sleep.
- Take care of yourself. Without your own physical and emotional health, you can’t take care of your loved one effectively, and feelings of resentment and bitterness may begin to surface.
- Expect to see roller coaster emotions from your loved one. Medications, side effects from treatments, and feelings of depression and anger may surface frequently.
- Encourage your loved one to stay active and do as much for herself as possible. It will help her feel like she still has control over her life.
- Ask other family members to help. You shouldn’t be doing this alone. It truly takes a village to support someone with breast cancer.
- Join a breast cancer support group. The staff at Comprehensive Breast Care can help you find a group near you.
- Accept that you cannot control the outcome.
The staff at Comprehensive Breast Care are here to help you and your family in every way possible. If you have questions or are looking for resources, please call us at 248.687.7300.