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Carly Waters: Embracing Each Day with Grace and Gratitude

Carly Waters

“In a world where things aren’t always good, it makes people feel good to help – and they really want to help.”

Carly Waters
Colon Cancer, Rectal Cancer

Carly Waters loves people. As a wife, mother, and former nonprofit event planner, Carly thrives on being social and enjoys being surrounded by friends and family. 

In June 2018, after relocating from Florida to the Dallas area, Carly, her husband, Smokey, and their two boys, Grant and Jake, were far from the comfort of their longtime social circle. Carly and Smokey were busy acclimating to their new home and looking for a new preschool for Jake, who was only two at the time, and meeting new friends for 4-year-old Grant.

The Waters were focused on all the things that make a new house a home. That’s when Carly was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer, and their world abruptly turned upside down.

“I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t have cancer – I’m a mom. This can’t be happening,’” said Carly, who was 39 at the time of her diagnosis.

More than 90% of colorectal cancer cases are discovered in people age 50 and older, but late-stage colon and rectal cancer diagnoses are on the rise in patients under 50.

Although Carly was having gastrointestinal symptoms and had been seeing doctors to identify the cause, a cancer diagnosis – let alone a stage III colorectal cancer diagnosis – was completely unexpected.

Learning to Lean on Others

Carly was referred to Scott Paulson, M.D., medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center. Her treatment would take almost a year to complete, and it was going to be tough, but Carly said she immediately made a connection with Dr. Paulson and his care team and that’s where she put her confidence. Together, they would fight.

Carly’s treatment began with radiation therapy. Next, she would have several surgeries to remove the regional lymph nodes as well as an ileostomy that was eventually reversed.

“It was a very difficult treatment plan, but she handled it like a champ,” said Dr. Paulson, noting that Carly experienced severe fatigue and quite a bit of discomfort. “It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure.”

Carly said she and her husband have always kept their health private and handled things on their own.

“All of a sudden we found ourselves in a position where we really needed support,” said Carly, who was initially reluctant to accept help. “In a world where things aren’t always good, it makes people feel good to help – and they really want to help. My parents visited quite often, and I made a good group of girlfriends who began taking turns going to treatment with me,” said Carly. 

Several months into treatment, Carly was cleared for chemotherapy

“It sounds cliché, but attitude is everything, and Carly had a great one. She managed to retain a sense of humor, asked the right questions, and advocated for herself well,” said Dr. Paulson. “Her ability to retain her sense of humor despite radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery is nothing short of admirable.”

“I felt like Dr. Paulson understood me because he listened to me. I felt heard. He was experienced in colorectal cancers, and he was always thorough. During times when I was an emotional mess, he and my care team were sympathetic, and I never felt rushed. The environment at Texas Oncology is one of care and compassion. You know you’re in good hands when you’re there,” said Carly.

During one of her radiation treatments, Carly was struggling. She said a nurse approached her and simply said she was sorry Carly was struggling.

“She didn’t try to make me feel better, she didn’t try to encourage me to hang in there. She simply said, ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this.’ It was the best thing anyone could have said to me in that moment. And I think it’s the best thing you can say to anyone going through cancer,” said Carly. 

Showering Others with Support

On May 15, 2019, Carly was declared cancer-free. Moved by the support she received during her cancer journey, Carly created an album with cards, quotes, and photos. It reminds her of the support she received and the support she can give to others who are struggling.

“Because of this experience, I’m a better listener, a better friend, and my family continues to find ways to show appreciation for those who went out of their way to support us.”

COVID-19 has made it challenging to show appreciation, but Carly finds creative ways to let people know they are loved.

“We should all be kind to one another because you never know what someone is going through. My advice to others struggling is to stay positive and rely on your friends and family,” Carly said.

Screening is essential to diagnosing colorectal cancer because the disease typically lacks symptoms in the early stages. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about your cancer risk or to schedule a screening.

The information included in this testimonial is based on one patient’s unique experience and is not intended to represent all patient outcomes or expectations.