'It never gets old to have that support behind you': Terrell selected for Kentucky Oaks Survivors Parade at Churchill Downs

Survivors and fighters of breast and ovarian cancer will be recognized in the 16th Kentucky Oaks Survivors Parade at Churchill Downs on Friday as part of the Kentucky Derby weekend.

And Owensboro resident Carla Terrell — two-time breast cancer survivor — will be among the 150 people selected to take part in the recognition parade.

“I have been trying to get into this parade for well over a decade,” Terrell, 58, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “They’ve done different ways of choosing participants … and I’ve been very faithful for over 10 years trying to get in.

“I was just really excited to see my name (selected) this year.”

Terrell said this won’t be her first time heading to the Run for the Roses.

“(I’ve been) many times, typically in the last 10 years off-and-on,” she said. “I typically go to the Oaks with … some other ladies, and then I’ve also been with my husband and I’ve been going to the Derby since college ….

“And if I don’t go to the Derby, I’m always at a Derby party or have a Derby party; so we love Derby Week.”

Terrell finds her time out in Louisville this time around will be a different experience.

“... I’ve been at the Oaks to see the actual parade, and the crowd really responds (to it). It is very touching to see survivors at a very high point because a lot of these people that are in the parade are at various stages of cancer and stages of their lives …. It’s very uplifting,” she said. “To be on the other side of that this year … I’m sure it will be an emotional thing. I’m just so excited.

“It never gets old to have that support behind you.”

Terrell’s first experience with breast cancer occurred when she was 38 years old.

“It was really kind of a fluke,” she said. “I had been with some ladies on a moms’ weekend, and one of my friends had just gone through a biopsy and found a spot that was benign and I thought, ‘Well gosh, I’ve never even (been) checked.’ ”

After getting checked herself, Terrell had a spot found and eventually found out she was in the early stage of breast cancer.

“It was very shocking. I had two young kids that were 6 and 4,” she said. “So at 38, I went through chemo, radiation, surgery and came out of that feeling pretty good.”

Though after six months of treatment and being considered in remission, it was five years later that the cancer returned, Terrell said.

“Again (it) was very early stage, but I had some radical surgery — and that’s been 15 years,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate.”

Since the beginning of her journey with breast cancer, Terrell has been involved with the Horses and Hope program, which was created by former Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear and the Kentucky Cancer Program, University of Louisville, with the support of the Pink Stable, a committee of Kentucky horse owners, riders, trainers, jockeys and others to increase breast cancer screening, education and treatment referral among Kentucky’s signature horse industry workers and other special populations.

According to Horses and Hope’s website, the program has since expanded to offer cancer prevention and early detection services for many different cancers through the organization’s Cancer Screening Van — which launched in 2016 and has screened more than 17,000 women for breast cancer that’s operated by the UofL Health — Brown Cancer Center — and has hosted special events to honor breast cancer survivors throughout the commonwealth.

Horses and Hope is also one of the charitable sponsors for the Survivors Parade.

“(I was involved) especially early (in) the first few years because I didn’t know anything about breast cancer, didn’t know anybody that had been through it,” Terrell said. “I did reach out a lot to organizations and did survivor things.”

Not only has Terrell benefited from the program but she has also been able to work with the initiative in her profession as a nurse — a career she began after being diagnosed the first time after spending “several years” taking care of her growing children at home.

“... When I was going back for my first surgery for breast cancer, there was kind of an older nurse that was helping me, and my husband said something like, ‘Well I guess you’ve been doing this forever’ and she said, ‘No, I just started when my kids went into school …,’ ” Terrell said. “She left the room and my husband said, ‘Well you ought to do that.’ ”

That week, Terrell said she signed up for courses at Owensboro Community & Technical College before progressing to a bachelor’s degree program at Western Kentucky University and eventually earned her master of science in nursing, with specialization in a family nurse practitioner degree, from South University.

“When I was going through chemo and radiation, I was also going through nursing school,” she said. “... I was like, ‘Well, I’m putting everything into trying to survive. So I’m going to survive, it’s never too late — so I might as well do it.’ ”

Her tenure in healthcare has been with Owensboro Health, spending four years in the emergency department at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, followed by an eight-year stint at the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center and currently works at the Ford Medical Building as a nurse practitioner specializing in urgent care.

She also hosted a weekly support group for years at Mitchell Memorial using “a lot of the models (and) outreach” from Horses and Hope, which she found to be just as much of a benefit to her.

“... When you sit down with someone who has cancer, … you kind of get the feeling that people talk at you and are given advice and they’re saying, ‘You’re going to be fine;’ and your first thought is, ‘How would you know? … You haven’t been through this,’ ” she said. “When I would speak with people and they knew I’ve been there, there’s a complete (shift in) attitude of, ‘Oh, you get it. You know.’

“There is this commonality among survivors …. Yes we’re all different, but there’s just core, emotional feelings that, until you’ve been there, you don’t really get it,” Terrell said. “The support group just made it easier to relate to people and for people to relate to me ….”

Regarding those who may be apprehensive about making an appointment for a screening, Terrell said one “should have a healthy fear to get you in that door.”

“... Knowledge is much more powerful than hiding,” she said.