SU2C Survivor Stories: Fred Carter Stands Up
Posted on July 2, 2012, 10:01 AM
In September 2011, Fred Carter was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. Throughout his diagnosis and intense cancer treatment, Fred held on to the hope that he would be strong enough to ride his motorcycle in the summer of 2012. As he finished treatment and summer grew closer, Fred made plans to do his “Bucket List Ride.” His goal: to reach the four corners of the United States by motorcycle with his wife Rhonda at his side.
SU2C recently had the opportunity to speak with Fred about his cancer experience and follow him on his “Bucket List Ride.”
How did you discover you had stomach cancer?
With stomach cancer, unless you find it by accident, you don’t usually see any symptoms until it’s at stage three or four.
One of my first symptoms I noticed was the difficulty I had swallowing and burping. This went on for several weeks before I was diagnosed. As time went on I began to notice that certain things in my body weren’t quite right. The symptoms continued and one day I burped up a blood clot.
I immediately went to the hospital and the doctors sent me home thinking it was something else gastric related, not cancer. By Tuesday I was in the hospital again and was given a CT scan. When I heard the word “malignant” I knew it wasn’t good news. I was diagnosed with stomach cancer and about four days later I began my treatment combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
What was your reaction to your diagnosis?
When I got the diagnosis one of the first things I thought was how grateful I was. I have been meditating for almost 18 years and have always made an effort to try to live well. My tag line for nearly everything is: Life is good, live it well, and thanks for listening.
A life well lived is one that’s appreciated. So when I got the diagnosis I was really grateful that I’d been living life this way for so long. It wasn’t that being diagnosed with cancer didn’t bother me; I just sort of decided to appreciate the life I was living and roll with it.
What was going through treatment like for you?
The radiation and chemo together made me the most miserable I’ve been in my entire life. There were points where I was throwing up a lot and got really dehydrated. I had mouth sores that were painful and had trouble even getting down water. A lot of the time I felt like I was battling the side effects from the chemo and radiation treatments more than I was fighting the cancer itself.
At one point I broke down and told my wife Rhonda, I didn’t think I could do it anymore.
What kept you going?
It would be impossible to pin this down to just one thing. Of course, my wife, Rhonda is my biggest supporter. She’s the one person who has been there every moment, and I couldn’t begin to describe the things she’s done so that I can stay focused on getting through this and getting better. And, I am extremely fortunate to have an incredible network of family and friends, (and cyber-friends!) who have given me strength and support as well.
I would say that it’s the human connection that is the bottom line, but that would leave out another critical part of my treatment. One of the things that Rhonda decided when I was going through treatment was that she wanted to get a dog. I wasn’t sure I was up for a dog in the house, but I thought she ought to have one. We ended up getting a Yorkshire Terrier and named it “Bu.” When we got her she was only three quarters of a pound and when I was at my worst Bu really helped me keep going. It was incredible.
How would you describe your condition now?
I guess you could say I am a survivor. I went through the maximum amount of allowed chemo and radiation treatments. My tumors and the lymph nodes have been shrinking and with each successive CT scan things have gotten better. I still have difficulty swallowing, and my hands and feet bother me some, but it’s not going to stop me from riding.
How did you come up with the idea for “My Bucket List Ride?”
The survival rate for stomach cancer isn’t great. So when I was diagnosed I was sad because riding season was coming to an end and I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the next summer. As I kept going I decided that if I made it to the summer of 2012 I would do as much riding as I could. That’s how I came up with the plan to travel to the four corners of the U.S. It was something that had always been on my bucket list and I figured that this was the best, and maybe the only, time to do it.
How did you decide to create a team for the ride on SU2C?
I’m excited about the ride but I also wanted to do some good with it. I’m a Boston Red Sox fan and I had heard about SU2C while watching the games on television. I went to the site and created a team to encourage my friends and family to follow my journey, help raise cancer awareness and donate to SU2C research. I personally plan to donate $1 for every 100 miles we travel. I’m also going to donate $50 for every corner we reach.
I know it’s not a sure thing I will get to all four corners, but I’m reasonably healthy for a guy with cancer and I think I can make it. People tell me that they are amazed at my attitude, but honestly I wouldn’t know how else to be.
My team has about 40 members right now and it’s very exciting to have such an outpouring of support. I’ve had people praying for me on all continents. It’s pretty cool.
What is something that you’ve personally done that’s helped you deal with your cancer?
I’ve never gotten angry. I just found that there wasn’t anything to get angry at. Before cancer, I had a plan to live to 88 years old. Cancer changed my plan. If I am lucky I will live another three or four years.
My lifespan got shortened quite a bit, but in the time I’ve got left I want to do the most good.
How has cancer changed you?
It’s changed my perspective a little bit because it shortened my view of the future. It’s interesting because now I don’t worry so much about it. In life, none of us know when our time will be up. Getting cancer is certainly not something I would put on my list of things to do, but it’s certainly been an incredible experience, and has truly enhanced how thankful I am for the life I’ve lived and every day going forward.
I also think that for a long time I’ve lived well, but I want to die well too. My goal is to be able to die with as much grace as I try to live with and to keep my attitude and spirits up for whatever comes next. I have a great life. I’m so glad that I get to be here today and I’m glad I get to be me.
Since Fred and his wife Rhonda began their journey in May, they have completed their trip and reached all four corners of the United States! Follow his journey and join his team My Bucket List Ride on SU2C.org.
You can also check out Fred and Rhonda, in an interview post ride, in their local news!
“Life is good, live well, and thanks for listening.”
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