By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Carol Rhoden’s mother died in 1995 at the age of 32. Her mother had breast cancer.
“[She] sat us down in May to tell us she had it, and she passed away that following October,” Rhoden said. “I was 15.”
Rhoden, now 38, is a physical education teacher at W.J. Christian Middle School.
Before her mother, Sandra Pullens, told the family about the cancer, Rhoden said her mother was more reserved.
“She would leave for work in the morning and normally would get off at 4 p.m., and we wouldn’t see her until that following day. She was sleeping a lot. She was withdrawn. I didn’t pay attention until she revealed that … she had breast cancer,” Rhoden said.
Still, her mother encouraged her family to live life to the fullest. Rhoden played basketball in high school at Fairfield Preparatory High School in 1998 and would travel to games, but she never worried about her mother because she believed she would live.
“When she needed help doing certain things, we were there. Even when it got bad and she wasn’t able to do anything for herself, I remember … believing that she was going to beat it. You could say I was naïve at 15 years old.
“I never thought I needed to stay home. [She’d tell me], ‘Go play your game.’ [We were] traveling, playing basketball, going outside; we weren’t up under her. We saw [how sick she was]—I also had a younger brother, who was five years old at the time—but we weren’t blind to what was going on. We just did what we could. It was heartbreaking to see my mom’s health deteriorate so fast.”
It was a lesson that life shouldn’t stop, Rhoden said: “It seems harsh, but it’s real.”
“I commend [my mother] for trying to give us some normalcy even though she was battling breast cancer.”
Rhoden’s mother had an aggressive form of cancer, and the lack of health insurance made it worse, “so trying to fight was a fight within itself because she didn’t have the means to be able to fight,” said Rhoden, who takes mammograms seriously.
“I see a breast specialist every six months now. She did an ultrasound and she explained to me that, because of my family history, it’s important to go through this.”
After Rhoden’s mother died, she and her siblings stayed with their grandmother.
“My grandmother did everything she could for us. My heart goes out to her. She had taken on the role as mother,” she said. “Twenty years after my mother passed away, my grandmother passed away.”
Rhoden went on to become Miss Basketball in 1998, when she graduated from high school, and played at Auburn University until 2002. Today, in addition to using her hoops skills to coach middle schoolers, she uses basketball to raise awareness about breast cancer through efforts like Created 2 Hoop. At this year’s Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) Sistah Strut, Rhoden presented survivors—men and women—with pink basketballs to remind them of their victory.
“That ball represents, ‘Hey, we have to find a cure for this disease,’” she said. “When you look at people who are survivors, that’s that hope. More and more people are beating it, but more people are being diagnosed, as well.”
Rhoden also hosts Box Out Breast Cancer, a basketball tournament to raise awareness.
“My mom died on October 16, so this is a time where my antennae are up,” she said. “I’ve never had breast cancer myself, but to watch my mom deteriorate makes me want to let [people] know I am there for them.”