Stir and Repeat

Story by Montana Jones/photos by Graham Davies—originally published in Watershed Magazine

Sometimes the worst thing imaginable happens…and then it happens again.

One couple’s quiet clinch with cancer has taken them from the threat of early death, to ushering others in their journey alongside unexpected illness.

Carol and Ed Carman have been there and back twice…breast cancer for Carol, prostate for Ed. Offering support to others was a fundamental part of their life even prior to needing it themselves.

“I think newly diagnosed people like to hear from cancer survivors. I’ve been cancer free for nine years,” says Ed.

Once he got over his own initial shock Ed tried to adopt a more optimistic outlook. “Whether its working or not, I’m still here.”

His positive attitude helped Carol immeasurably when she was diagnosed with her cancer five years ago. After losing her hair to chemotherapy treatment, Ed decided to shave his all off in solidarity. “Some people tell me I did well recovering because I had an upbeat attitude too…well, I had an upbeat attitude because I wasn’t throwing up all the time,” says Carol.

During his recuperation Ed happened into a car dealership to talk with a salesperson. “Turned out he was treasurer of a cancer support group who were looking for volunteers,” recalls Ed, who now heads the meetings.

He also ended up buying the car.

Ed and the car now drive patients to and from medical appointments for the Cancer Society.

“One fellow told me that I gave him hope since he thought he’d been given a death sentence. It’s good to have someone to call so you can hear their story.” And Ed is always there for anybody who wants to talk.

Offering stoic support to others was a fundamental part of the Carman’s lives even prior to needing it themselves.  The altruistic duo live in an immaculate, unassuming home in Cobourg, but it’s clear their energy flows freely outward to the less fortunate around them.

Besides work with the Cancer Society, Ed is the mostly enthusiastic President of the Highland Games Society. “Many of the members are pushing me to wear a kilt,” he says with a slow shake of his head. “I’m fine with my tartan tie.”

He’s also involved in non-profit seniors housing, Orange Lodge and the Trinity United church in Cobourg.

Almost 50 years after their first teen meeting through another church, it is still central to their lives, though the two don’t often team up in their many roles as community helpers. “I don’t think we volunteer together in anything,” smiles Carol, “That’s how we keep the marriage together. The closest we’ve been involved in anything jointly is with Trinity United.” He’s managed property there for over 20 years, and Carol looks after the archives.

Carol also helps out in the Cobourg-Port Hope Multiple Sclerosis annual walk; worked with the Northumberland Distress Line; contributed baby hats for 500 annual hospital newborns; and knits the mitts, hats and scarves for Care for You, a new organization offering much needed winter warmth to area kids.

At one point, Carol crafted dolls for soldiers to give to children in Afghanistan but problems arose when the families that accepted the dolls were targeted by the Taliban.

Undeterred, Carol connected with Dr. Bill Moebus and his wife Shirley, who had been taking toothbrushes to children overseas, until discovering they were sharing just one between the whole family.  Carol arranged for the dolls to go instead.

She also makes milk bag mats. “About 150 are cut up and crocheted together,” she says. “The hurricane victims use them to sleep on the ground and keep the bugs away, then sterilize them in boiling water before re-using.

Once Carol got started making the mats, everyone jumped on the bagwagon. Burnham School, Merwin Greer, St. Mikes, Trinity Church and St. Andrews sent 500 milk bags flooding in each week, so she recruited help.

Each rug takes about 3 weeks to complete. “Because of the cancer I can’t work too long on something where I’m repeating the same motion.”

But some repetitive motions come easily for Carol and Ed. Over and over again, they show a quiet dedication to helping others within their own community and throughout the world.

Still, they are reticent to be described as hometown heroes. “Well…things happen,” says Carol. “And because it’s a small community, one thing leads to another. If it’s gonna go, somebody’s got to do it. So you just go do it.”