W I N T E R 1 9 9 9
Cancer no match for courage and determination of Carol (Quarterman '89) Kummerle
B Y D E B B I E
M A R S H A L L ,
T H E M A R Y S V I L L E G L O B E
Carol (Quarterman '89) Kummerle spends some time with son Drake before heading off to Hawaii on an anniversary trip with her husband, Paul.
This article appeared Aug. 5, 1998, in Debi Marshall's "Silver Linings" column in The Marysville Globe (Wash.). A recent update on Kummerle follows the main text.
Playing with her 4-year-old son, teaching third grade at Discovery Elementary in the Mukilteo School District - these are activities Carol (Quarterman '89) Kummerle '89 used to take for granted. Not anymore.
On Aug. 11, the young teacher celebrated her 31st birthday. A year ago, it was a milestone she wondered if she'd ever reach. Kummerle has spent the past year fighting for her life. Today she is grateful to be alive, to have conquered the disease which threatened to take her away from her young son, Drake, and husband, Paul, a Local 66 sheet metal worker for McKinstry.
In June 1997, Kummerle was feeling extremely fatigued. When she met with a doctor in Everett, he immediately ordered x-rays and tests. It was on the last day of school that year when Kummerle learned there was a large tumor in her mediastinum (an area under the sternum) and was forced to leave her beloved students early that day. Never did she imagine it would be two long years before she would be able to return to her classroom, to fellow teachers and staff members who had become close friends.
A couple of days later, a biopsy confirmed what the doctor suspected. The tumor was malignant. Kummerle had a highly aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
Her father, Bob Quarterman, a commercial fisherman who resides in Mill Creek, Wash., and her husband accompanied her to the doctor's office, where she was told the devastating news. Kummerle felt "numb" as the physician said she needed to immediately begin six rigorous cycles of chemotherapy treatments, one every three weeks.
Along with her roles as mother, wife, teacher, daughter and sister, Kummerle also became a fighter. She was determined to do whatever it took to beat the life-threatening illness. Competition was nothing new to Kummerle. She had been a competitive athlete throughout her life, swimming backstroke and freestyle for Cascade High School in Everett and as a college student at PLU as well.
"Losing my hair was hard. I have a lot of natural curls," she said, remembering the day she began the grueling treatments that she hoped would save her life.
When school began last fall, Kummerle wasn't in her classroom. She was still undergoing chemotherapy, and the career she had so lovingly chosen had to be placed on hold. Her students, their parents and the school staff rallied around her. Her husband; father; mother, Linda Quarterman; and brothers, Craig, 20, and Ken, 29, were beside her every step of the way.
Once chemotherapy was completed, she began 25 days of radiation treatments, and the fatigue that had plagued her for months became even more debilitating. Then, last February, she was dealt another blow. Kummerle learned the cancer she had fought so valiantly to beat had returned with a vengeance.
"I was so incredibly tired, and all I could think about was 'what's next?'" she said.
She made an appointment with a lymphoma specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and a different chemotherapy regiment was started. This time she became so ill she was hospitalized for six days. Three weeks later, doctors reported the tumor had actually grown.
At this point, others may have thrown in the towel, but not Kummerle. With the same determination she'd exhibited in the swimming pool, she informed physicians she'd do whatever they recommended to beat the lymphoma once and for all.
She received additional chemotherapy, learned to give herself painful injections to boost her infection-fighting cells and went through a procedure to collect specific cells from her blood that would later save her life.
On April 17, she was admitted to the University of Washington Medical Center for a stem cell transplant, a procedure similar to a bone marrow transplant.
For weeks Kummerle battled valiantly to live. She was fed intravenously because her mouth was too full of sores to eat. She fought life-threatening infections and extreme nausea, and throughout it all, her friends and family provided support.
"My pantry was always full," she said with gratitude. "Friends would arrive with baskets of soup, crackers, stuff for Drake. Ten couples we are friends with brought in 25 'meals on wheels' for Paul while I was in the hospital."
For 21 days she continued her fight. Although she was constantly filled with fear, she was determined not to give up. Finally, on May 8, she was able to return to her home in Everett. She cried as she said good-bye to the nurse who had so gently cared for her throughout the transplant.
Her battle, however, was far from over. On June 1 she was to begin further radiation treatments when her doctor called her into his office. "Carol, we've got something to talk about," he said, and as Kummerle, Drake and her father waited, her blood ran cold with fear. The physician said he had conferred with specialists throughout the country and learned Kummerle was a candidate for a new form of directed radiation called proton radiation therapy. Unfortunately, the only hospital in the country offering this treatment was located at Loma Linda University in California.
On June 4, Kummerle learned she had been accepted into the new program and her insurance had approved the costly treatments. Her parents were visiting a critically ill cousin in Arkansas, and Kummerle had loaned them all her suitcases.
Wearily she drove to a nearby store, purchased a new suitcase and at 4 am the following morning, she and her son were on a plane headed for Loma Linda. Her grandparents, Gilbert and Jeanette Penn of Olympia, Wash., scrambled to accompany her, and for a week they stayed by her side, helping her get settled into an apartment and caring for Drake.
As she had done throughout her life, Kummerle refused to dwell on herself. She quickly befriended a young mother with six children who was there because her 13-month-old baby was also battling cancer. Kummerle helped care for the baby and played with the other children.
There were moments when Kummerle wondered whether she could go on. When she called Drake's godparents back home and learned they were throwing their annual Fourth of July bash, she burst into tears.
"I was so homesick that it was crushing me inside," she said. "All our friends were doing normal things, and I was down in California, fighting for my life."
She also met a couple from Hawaii who "adopted Drake and me as their second family," she said gratefully. She received radiation for 25 days and on July 15, the weary warrior and her small son, who had grown a lot in the past year both physically and emotionally, were finally able to return home.
Today Kummerle delights in life's simple pleasures: playing with Drake, watering her flowers, watching her parents' black lab puppies grow by leaps and bounds.
"My outlook has changed completely," she said wistfully. "When I wake up each morning, I am thrilled to think I have another day here."
She looks forward to returning to her classroom in the fall of 1999. This year, her immune system is still too suppressed. She is delighted with the "peach fuzz" now covering her once-bald head.
"I feel totally exhausted but strong at the same time, because if I'm not, my whole world falls apart," she said. "Sometimes I feel like the rock that's holding everyone together, but fighting the way I did has also given me courage."
I don't think courage is a newly found attribute for this woman; I'm certain she has carried it with her, in her heart, throughout her life. Happy birthday, Carol, and many many more.
Editor's Note: Scene caught up with Kummerle for an update just before press time in November 1998.
"My type of cancer is normally 85% curable after the first treatment," she said. "I just happen to be in the 15% who had relapsed." And while only one other person with similar symptoms has been treated with proton radiation therapy at Loma Linda, the results are encouraging: that person has been cancer-free for three to four years, Kummerle noted.
In the busy time before the holidays, she and husband Paul were making final arrangements for an eight-day trip to Hawaii to celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. They planned to stay with the couple from Hawaii whom Kummerle had met during her treatments in California. But mid-November marked more than seven years of marriage for the couple; it also brought Kummerle her seventh cancer-free month. With similar progress (monitored by x-rays every three months), Kummerle continues to plan for a return to the classroom in fall 1999.
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