Letter to the editor carries vital message

Editor’s Note: We generally only run letters to the editor beginning on page 4A, our Opinion page, but this letter from Dan Coke of Easley carries a message that is so timely and meaningful that we could not resist starting it here on page 1A. Carol Coke was a wonderful person whose memory is missed daily by people all around Pickens County, and her legacy lives on, as the school district where she worked for 25 years recently dedicated a professional learning area in her memory at Hagood Elementary School. We ran a photo of the dedication on page 1A of the Oct. 3 edition of the Courier.

Dear Editor:

Thank you for running the picture and words about my wife Carol Littlejohn Coke in the October 3 issue of the Courier. Our whole family is very proud of all the accomplishments of Carol during her school career. It was such an honor that the school district and Hagood Elementary dedicated the Professional Learning Center at Hagood to the memory of her.

Since this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Courier is recognizing that each week, I thought that you might be interested in some facts about my sweet wife. She was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in February 2009. She discovered a redness and lump on the same day of the funeral of her father, who had taught at Pickens Middle School for many years.

Carol had not had a regular mammogram for eight years, just busy doing other things or simply just didn’t take the time for one.

Unfortunately, she realized too late that not taking care of herself had cost her. She had a mastectomy at AnMed in Anderson and waited to heal somewhat from the surgery before her oncologist visit, per her surgeon’s instructions.

When she did see her oncologist, he went over her CAT scan and MRI and other data and told Carol that she also had spots on her liver. She had a liver biopsy and discovered that the cancer also had spread to her liver. Carol started massive radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

During this time of treatments, Carol always kept a positive attitude and just knew she was going to beat this disease. She continued to work in the school district as a master teacher and instructional technology coach. She was very encouraging to anyone that she worked with, and a calming influence even on me, her husband, during this trying time.

She went on about her work and business as though nothing was wrong.
However, in December 2009, she had a major seizure at our family gathering for Christmas. We thought that we had lost her. She was rushed to the hospital in Easley, had a cat scan on her head, and the doctors immediately suspected brain cancer. She recovered somewhat, and the next week her doctors at AnMed did an MRI on the brain. It came back positive for brain cancer. She had been doing so well with her chemo treatments, so we wondered how the cancer had spread to her brain.

Turns out that because of the “blood brain barrier” that normal chemo does not get to the brain. Since she already had one round of radiation previously, her doctors were leery of more radiation. So, for most of 2010, she went on a different type of chemo and we made several trips to the Chapel Hill Medical Center in North Carolina for experimental drug treatments for brain cancer.

Everything was going pretty well for much of 2010, and the brain cancer and her other cancers were held in check. However, in December of 2010 (December again) she began to have seizures again, and the brain cancer was back in full force. The doctors held off on more radiation, but as time went by and the strong chemo she was on was not working, she did have more radiation, which was probably more than she could handle.

During this whole time, I need to mention that Carol kept doing and helping in the school district as much as she could. She had to retire early because of her health, which she hated having to do, because she always loved her job. She was a born teacher and instructor and loved it. She started volunteering with the school district office and helped in their new Safe-T implementation and instruction and mentoring programs. She was holding up strong for everyone around her.

She still continued her positive attitude and worked with the school district until June 2011, when another seizure took the Carol we all knew away from us. She struggled another two and a half months before cancer took her away from us on Sept. 3, 2011. We had been married for 39 years, and now she is resting at Hillcrest in Pickens.

My whole point here is to make sure no one is too busy to take care of themselves. I miss my sweet Carol every day, but her legacy now continues, and her memory will stay with everyone, teacher or student, that is instructed or visits her new room, the “Carol Coke Professional Learning Center” of the School District of Pickens County at Hagood Elementary School.

Dan Coke