Caryl Martinez

Breast Cancer and Leukemia Survivor

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought I was going to crawl into a little ball and wither away,” Caryl Martinez says. “I didn’t. I learned you have to rally to fight this.” When Caryl learned she had cancer. She was only 59. The wife of a retired physician, mother of two and a lifelong community volunteer, says she was caught totally by surprise when cancer entered her life.

Caryl worried that cancer treatment might interfere with her goals as president of the Visiting Nurses Association. She was especially afraid of chemotherapy. “I was really, really relieved to learn the protocol for me was not chemotherapy, but radiation therapy,” she says.  Caryl says the radiation oncology staff at Jennie Edmundson Hospital put her at ease immediately, and her treatments went smoothly. 

Caryl completed treatment, accomplished her goals and assumed her cancer journey was over. Five years went by, and the couple celebrated. Another five went by, and they celebrated again. “Wow, I’m cancer-free!” Caryl thought. She wasn’t.

Over the Christmas 2008 holiday, while the couple vacationed in Mexico with their children and grandchildren, Caryl felt unusually fatigued, out of breath and uninterested in food. She blamed her symptoms on the heat and stress of an upcoming move. A doctor examined Caryl and found fluid in her lungs. After blood tests showed low hemoglobin, the doctor ordered additional testing. This time, when he returned with the lab results, the doctor sat down. Caryl knew something was very wrong. “I’m really sorry to have to tell you this,” the doctor said, “but you have acute myelocytic leukemia.”

Nearly four months after being diagnosed with leukemia, Caryl had a bone marrow transplant. Bad news quickly followed. Jose, Caryl’s husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer the day after her transplant.  “That summer was brutal for us,” she says. “We clung to each other on days that were not so great.” Their world revolved around cancer treatment and doctors’ appointments.

Today, both Caryl and Jose are healthy and strong. “With cancer, you learn what’s really important,” Caryl exclaims. “Family. Friends. Courage. Optimism. Appreciation. Time.”