Cancer patient fights to ski Vail |

Cancer patient fights to ski Vail

J.K. Perry/Vail DailyCancer survivor Carrie Madden, 48, shows off her "breast-cancer survivor snow woman" Friday in Donovan Park.

VAIL ” Carrie Madden discovered a red spot on her breast 14 months ago.

The next day the spot turned scaly. The third day the doctor took a biopsy. Madden, 48, learned she had a form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer in which thin sheets of cancer form, rather than a tumor.

The Austin, Texas resident suffered nine months of arduous chemotherapy, going bald, the amputation of a breast and three months of radiation. The disease put a stop to her family’s annual spring skiing trip.

“Last spring break was a dark time because I was very sick,” Madden said.

Madden looked at photos of her family skiing in Telluride and Durango on her refrigerator and promised herself to get better and ski Vail Mountain the next year. She pushed herself everyday, sometimes just walking to the end of her driveway for exercise.

“I decided to be a survivor of cancer, not a victim,” she said.

This past week Madden, her husband and college-age son and daughter drove the 16 hours from Austin to Vail.

Tired and weak, but a survivor, Madden skied down Ha Ha Highway and Lionsway on Thursday. Recalling the experience, she defeated the urge to sob.

“I got up on the mountain, did a couple easy runs and spent some time in the lodge,” she said. “It was totally awesome.”

Sapped strength

Originally, doctors gave Madden a 2 percent chance of living. Madden attributes her survival to the breakthrough drug Herceptin, designed to treat inflammatory breast cancer.

She suffered through chemotherapy, a process she likened to “pouring some sort of bleach in you.” After chemo and losing her hair, her breast was removed in a mastectomy.

On Jan. 1 Madden completed radiation. She feels better, not 100 percent. She gets winded when walking, but she continues to exercise to strengthen her heart. Doctors tell her she’ll never be 100 percent, so she must find a “new normal,” she said.

Meanwhile, the doctors can’t tell her if she’s cured.

“The doctors can’t test me ” I have to live with the confidence it’s gone,” Madden said.

Experts say it takes five cancer-free years before “cured” is declared. There is no data on survival rates for patients receiving Herceptin..

‘Pay it forward’

Much of Madden’s strength came from joining LiveStrong, the foundation formed by cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, she said.

LiveStrong is a support system and advocacy group for cancer patients.

Recently, Madden learned through LiveStrong that President Bush proposed to cut $60 million in funding for programs that support cancer patients and survivors.

“It was very, very disturbing,” she said.

Now Madden is fighting the funding cuts ” by getting the word out ” on behalf of all future and current people diagnosed with cancer, she said.

“There were advocates before me, that’s why I survived and I need to pay it forward,” Madden said.

Over two days, she built a “breast-cancer-survivor snow woman” measuring over 6-feet tall in Donovan Park in Vail. Her husband and son had to help heave the second and third snow boulders onto the snow woman’s base.

Then Madden taped a pink bow symbolizing breast cancer and yellow LiveStrong banner to the bottom of the snow woman. She also managed to act like a care-free kid.

“I went to the park and just sat in the snow,” Madden said.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or

Vail, Colorado

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