It might sound crazy to be grateful for kidney stones, but if Carlton hadn’t had them, she never would have gone to the doctor. She wouldn’t have had a CT scan, and her doctor wouldn’t have found something on her lung that shouldn’t have been there.
Last Thanksgiving, Carlton was on her balcony watching half marathon runners fill the streets below her.
“I thought, I want to get back to that– I want to do that next year,” she recalled. “And be here, and celebrate. And who would have known that last year, standing on that balcony saying that, I would be in the situation I am today.”
Now, she’s grateful to be alive.
“In ways, it’s strange to say, but I’m thankful for cancer,” Carlton explained. “It’s changed my life. It makes me so, so much more appreciative, of everything. Little things.”
Last October, Carlton—who was an avid runner—was treated for kidney stones. Her doctor noticed a spot on her left lung. She says back then, her doctor thought it might just be something on the x-ray film, or a shadow. They watched it for months, and meanwhile, Carlton kept running.
“And something just kept nagging at me, that I really need to have this looked at by someone else– a second opinion,” she said.
In July, she signed up for the Atlanta Half Marathon. Eight days later, she went to Emory Midtown Hospital, where a doctor took another look at her. Immediately, he told her it was cancer.
“I thought, as soon as they told me, I’ve never smoked! I’ve never smoked! How did this happen?” Carlton said.
Carlton’s doctor told her the type of cancer she had is becoming more common in young, non-smoking women but it’s not clear why. A surgeon took the tumor out, along with the lower lobe of Kristen’s lung. She didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.
“The biggest thing I can say, is when I came out of surgery, is, “I’m thankful to be breathing,” she now says.
“Just breathe” became her mantra. Then, the race—and not cancer—became her focus.
“I think it I weren’t running it, I maybe wouldn’t have pushed myself,” Carlton said. “I wouldn’t have gotten out there on days when it’s hard to breathe. The cold air makes it very hard to breathe.”
Come Thanksgiving morning, Carlton will send up a prayer as she runs that 13.1 miles.
“I think I’m here for a reason, and I’m hoping that I fulfill that reason,” she said.
Carlton hopes her story will raise awareness about lung cancer, and she’s teamed up with former Atlanta Falcons player Chris Draft, whose wife Keisha Rutledge Draft died almost two years ago of lung cancer. She was also a non-smoker.