Meet Carol Gulino
Carol is a vocational rehabilitation counselor whose job is twofold: to help people with a variety of disabilities go to work for the first time or to return to work. The last five years of her life have been a bit of a roller coaster due to medical issues— from the doctor who told her a kidney transplant was “a given” in her future to her diabetes diagnosis shortly thereafter. But as she sat in her doctor’s office to receive the results of her annual mammogram, she didn’t see the “cancer thing” coming.
I’ve learned to live with the lifelong challenges of my Spina Bifida. I have some hydrocephalus and a urostomy, I’ve had six orthopedic surgeries and countless kidney infections, and I wear AFOs. Doctors watch my kidneys very closely as a result of being on prophylaxis virtually my entire life, and I recently was diagnosed with diabetes too, although that seems to have stabilized with diet and exercise. One of the thoughts that ran through my mind after learning about the cancerous, pea-size tumor was, “Really? I have to deal with this too?” But I guess it’s a reminder that life happens, whether or not it seems fair. Just because we [adults with Spina Bifida] have disabilities, that doesn’t mean we won’t have to deal with the other stuff that life can bring our way.
One Moment at a Time
I wish I had taken someone with me to that appointment. When you hear the word “cancer” your mind just kind of stops and you don’t hear anything after that. I think the best advice is to take someone with you any time you have a doctor’s appointment that involves getting test results back. I was blindsided with the cancer diagnosis. My first thought was, “Is this a death sentence?” It helped over time to change my thinking from “what if ” to taking things one moment at a time. I tried to focus on only what was immediately before me and then go on to the next phase, without letting my mind wander to the future or to worst-case scenarios.
I became good friends with a woman who was undergoing the same diagnosis and treatment as me. Our treatment was essentially the same—radiation and tamoxifen—however, due to my kidney issues caused by Spina Bifida there are always extra considerations in terms of medications.
I’m typically not a depressed person, but there was a time during this period that I was heading in that direction. As a vocational rehabilitation counselor, I believe in the process of therapy. But my attitude was: “I don’t need help.” Then one day I thought to myself: If I were a client of mine, what would I tell this person?
My therapist has helped me a lot. My mental health is much better these days. I still have some dark moments, but I’ve learned how to deal with those thoughts and emotions, whereasbefore I felt at times like I was in a big black hole.
If you are dealing with depression, reach out and get help however you need it—whether it’s through faith, family, friends, or therapy. Be sure to tell a friend, sibling, or someone you trust about what you are going through. They can help monitor your behavior and mood in case they need to get you help if you aren’t able to get help yourself.
Please remember: Early detection is key! Those annual tests and screenings are so important. Because my cancer was caught early, the cancer was the size of a pea and it was stage 0.