How Fitness + Focus Prepared Carol To Fight Cancer

Carol Froehlich’s appreciation and understanding of young children made her passion of becoming an elementary school counselor a reality.  She embraced her profession and found children responsive to the variety of programs and services she provided.  Nearly twenty years later, Carol continues to keep in touch with her former students. Even eight years into retirement, Carol contentedly reflects on her challenges and successes as a counselor.

Our story today is about Carol’s devotion to children and families, yet also to her own survival.

In March 2016, Carol was “called back” after her annual mammogram. She describes hearing her Stage 1 breast cancer diagnosis as “walking into cold water. It’s cold, you get used to it, then it’s cold again.”  Then the water “got cold” again as she learned, after surgery, she was actually Stage 2.

But to truly understand Carol’s journey, we need to begin with her story of devotion, trials, and perseverance.

She has that knack for establishing relationships with people, finding clarity and solutions. To spend time with Carol is like taking a peaceful stroll — you return more relaxed and somehow feel wiser, more capable. Children and teens have always been drawn to her calming presence.

But even counseling experts well-versed in emotions and motivations can be susceptible to unhealthy relationships. Carol engaged in a tug-of-war with food and her weight most of her life. It began in childhood when her mother used food as punishment or reward. In high school, twenty extra pounds crept on, and then another 25 in college. Her junior year, Carol chose to exert control over her relationship with food and joined Weight Watchers where she gained a “real education in real food” and “learned to cook.” This balance and understanding was enlightening to Carol, who had only known her mother’s “punitive” approach with food.

Carol grew up in Atlanta where she met and married a wonderful man named Rick. They welcomed two beautiful daughters, Rachel and Jen, just a year apart. With her first pregnancy, Carol watched the scale edge up 90 pounds. She was an excited new mom, yet painfully endured her mother “harp” about her diet. Carol tried to cut back until her doctor warned her on the need for proper nutrition while nursing her baby.

After a decade as a speech pathologist, Carol earned a Master’s in Counseling in 1989. She loved her job as a school counselor, but secretly worried about entering the classroom because she may not fit in a seat.

In 1990, Carol’s family relocated to Alexandria for Rick’s job. At the same time, her mother-in-law lost her battle to cancer. Only nine months later, Carol’s father-in-law passed away. The family was mourning the loss of loved ones while adjusting to a life in a new city where the stressful pace was palpable.

Carol’s weight peaked and she “decided to do something about it.” She applied her counselor’s training to fitness and started out small but doable. She walked every day, increasing each week by 15 minutes. Carol who had devoted her life to helping others agreed to let her friend Maria, a personal trainer (who came to her school to help children and teachers), help her. They trained twice a week at school and once at home. It took two years for Carol to lose 130 pounds.

Carol retired from Fairfax County Public Schools in 2012 and ramped up her volunteerism. She is active in the Naomi Project to assist high-risk pregnant and young women develop good parenting skills and plan productively for their futures. She works with Metropolitan Washington Ear to help blind, visually impaired, and physically disabled people read print. She and Rick are Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), serving as voices of children in court when their parents are involved in contested paternity, divorce, or other disputes.

Also in 2012, Carol came to FOR at the encouragement of her daughter Jen, who had previously trained with Ryan, one of our trainers, because she had become a grandmother and wanted stamina to keep up with her adorable grandson. Carol loves the variety at FOR.  She pushes the sled, drags sandbags, and swings kettlebells – now that’s one cool grandma! Though she makes her disdain for planks clear, she sees the value and does them. She’s discovered having a strong back and core provide relief from scoliosis and bursitis.

After training at FOR for a few years, it was that March day when she got the “call back” when things begin to change.  Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation soon followed.

Carol never lost her sense of calm or her commitment to fitness. Carol points out “the little things made a huge difference.”

Her doctor, Dr. Mary Wilkinson, made exercise non-negotiable. She told Carol the “chemo works better and faster with exercise because it pushes it through the body.” She cautioned Carol “no exercise was not an option” even on the days she didn’t feel like it. So Carol kept coming to FOR. I remember being so impressed when I’d see her enter. I thought to myself I knew she was in the middle of a struggle with cancer. Carol also participated in a restorative yoga at Fairfax INOVA. She walked daily.

Huge, indeed. She no longer has an unhealthy relationship with food and is nearing the one year mark since her cancer diagnosis. Carol tells me that she feels she’s “reclaimed” her life. And what a life it is, filled with family, volunteerism, fitness, serenity and strength!

Thank you for sharing your story, Carol!

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