A Christmas to remember: Whitehall resident celebrates two years cancer free

Carrie Arquette has a lot to be grateful for during this holiday season.

The amiable 33 year-old Whitehall resident has a loving husband, is a proud mother of two young children, and works as a sixth grade teacher at Granville Elementary School – a job she loves. She also has her health.

This Christmas marks the two year anniversary since Arquette was declared cancer free.

“It’s crazy because sometimes it feels like it was yesterday and other times it feels so long ago,” said Arquette.

By all accounts, Arquette was in the prime of her life in the spring of 2010. She was an active runner, paid attention to her health and had no family history of cancer, so when she found a lump on her breast that April, she didn’t fear the worst.

“I went and saw my doctor and he said it was probably nothing. So I had a mammogram and they said it was probably nothing. The next step was an ultrasound, and then I had a biopsy. When I got the diagnosis it was shocking. I was 31 and had no family history. It was so atypical I had gotten this diagnosis.”

Life didn’t give her much time to dwell on the diagnosis, which occurred at nearly the same time her daughter, Julia, was turning four, and her son, Seth, was turning one.

“It wasn’t a convenient time for that to happen. My kids were so young and they really needed me. It was a very hard time to be sick but it made me push through it knowing they needed me,” Arquette said.

Arquette received permission from her doctor to put off treatments until the end of the school year and on June 29, three days after her students finished their final day of classes at Granville Elementary School, she began chemotherapy.

“It took up the whole summer. I had treatments every three weeks and it got harder and harder as the weeks went on. I lost all my hair and my fingernails. It was rough,” Arquette said.

Her last chemotherapy treatment occurred in October of 2010 and her doctors told her she would need an additional 33 days of radiation treatments.

“I kind of figured out that it would be done by Christmas.

I finished my last treatment on Dec. 17, 2010. It was definitely the best Christmas ever,” said Arquette.

Arquette returned to school two weeks later.

“The day I came back, it was right after Christmas break, everyone was wearing a pink shirt and one of the kids had made a banner for me (the banner was after surgery in May). It was really touching. The kids in Granville are amazing. It’s incredible that kids that young can be aware of issues like this,” she said.

Her students weren’t the only ones who showed their support. During her ordeal, friends and colleagues from school drove her to treatments, parents of some of her students made her hats to wear when she didn’t have her hair, and she said the staff at Whitehall Elementary School was very supportive of her daughter.

Her former soccer team even had her come back as an honorary coach and wore shirts that said “today, we play for ‘Coach A.’”

“I’ve always been an optimistic person and look for the best in people but I really saw it when I went through that. The teachers were so supportive. It was amazing. They were always checking in with me,” said Arquette.

Although Arquette won’t let the experience define her, it has become part of who she is and she has tried to pay forward some of the support she received.

She and her family recently appeared in fundraising materials for Glens Falls Hospital’s annual Communities Against Cancer Fund and while the advertisement ended up being a little more prominent than Arquette anticipated, and while she admits it can be uncomfortable talking about her experience, she hopes that doing so will help other people facing similar circumstances.

“It was kind of my way of giving back, my way of saying thank you,” she said.

“Most of the people I met who had breast cancer were older. It was hard to find someone to relate to. I think it’s important for young survivors to get out there and talk about it. I want to be open if people need someone to talk to.”

So when Arquette and her family wake up on Tuesday morning, and the kids begin to open gifts, Arquette will be thanking all those who helped her.

“I would never give up living in a small town. Had I been just a number in a large school it would have been different. The people here are like family.”

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