Staff Photo: Keith Farner Members of the Coopers Pond Aquaducks swim team practice before their meet against the Hanarry Swim and Racquet Club. The meet was also a fundraiser in honor of Carla Tais and to benefit the nonprofit "Sisters by choice." The pool was dyed pink in honor of the fight against breast cancer.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Given her personality, Carla Tais decided to attack cancer with humor.
She has T-shirts with punch lines splashed across the front, and even tells jokes, which has surprised her oldest son.
"She hasn't acted any different," said Santiago, 19, her son. "Cracking jokes at the dinner table. Most people with cancer don't even eat at the dinner table. They're sitting in the living room, not cooking dinner for their family."
Tais, 39, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November after she reported to her doctor during an appointment for asthma medication that she felt a lump the size of a bean on her right breast. Her doctor recommended a mammogram in part because Tais had a grandmother who had breast cancer, but she didn't think it was a big deal.
But the mammogram revealed a stage 1 triple positive invasive breast cancer diagnosis.
Twenty-five days later, Tais had surgery for a double mastectomy voluntarily because, she said, "No way was I going through the same thing again."
As she walked around the pool at a swim meet on Thursday in her honor and to benefit a nonprofit that supports breast cancer survivors, Sisters By Choice, she wore buzzed pink hair and held a clipboard to help the swimmers get ready to compete. The Coopers Pond Aquaducks' final home swim meet featured water that was dyed pink to raise money and awareness in the fight against breast cancer. The pool area swelled to capacity as several neighbors who don't have children participating made the event larger than a typical turnout of 43 familes from Coopers Pond.
Coopers Pond coach Colleen Cordle said the benefit was designed to educate the youngsters about giving back and helping others. Last year, the swim team donated canned goods to the Lawrenceville Co-Op.
"This is not just about our swim team, this is a life situation," Cordle said. "I've always wanted my kids to know about others and help others."
Those close to Tais said her attitude and sense of humor allowed her to attack the cancer as if it was simply another life obstacle.
"She never once thought this was going to be a problem," Cordle said. "She always attacked it as if, 'OK, something new I've got to deal with.'"
Tais called it a bump in the road.
"It was not going to kill me as long as I did the right things," she said. "You need to get up and keep walking because nobody is going to walk for you. What's the point of being blue and dragging your feet everywhere? It's not going to make a difference."
While Tais missed three months of work, she only recalls a few days where she was sick following chemo treatments. She admitted that the way she fought the cancer was because of her personality.
"Why whine through it when you can just drink wine through it," she said with a laugh. "That's fun."
She also credited the five women she leaned on at the Sisters By Choice organization who helped her navigate symptoms and answer questions about if what she felt was normal.
After an early chemotherapy treatment, Tais wondered about her fingertips being numb. Later, she called someone to ask if it was normal for toenails to fall off.
The organization was founded in 1989 by Tais' surgeon, Dr. Rogsbert Phillips-Reed, who hopes to to significantly reduce the incidence and severity of breast cancer through education, awareness and treatment programs.
A volunteer from Sisters By Choice, Pamela Carter, attended the swim meet and said Phillips-Reed wanted breast cancer survivors to have somewhere else to go for support after they left her office.
Tais said the organization also performs about 800 free mammograms annually through a mobile breast clinic for uninsured, unemployed or low income women. Sisters By Choice also does free seminars and workshops to promote breast cancer awareness.
"All I want women to know is don't take chances," Tais said. "There are so many things we can't control. Take care of the ones you can; have a yearly mammogram and do self exams monthly."