Why I ride

UM police dispatcher Caroline Shipman shares her personal experience as a Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center patient at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center at UHealth and what participating in the annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge means to her.
Dolphin Cancer Challenge participants biking in Hard Rock Stadium.
UM police dispatcher Caroline Shipman (left) and Meredith Camel ride into Hard Rock Stadium during the 2018 Dolphins Cancer Challenge.

This personal account was authored by Caroline “Shippy” Shipman and shared with the Life@TheU team. Learn more about the Dolphins Cancer Challenge and how you can participate.

My wife, Carol, and I always talked about leaving England to start a new chapter in the United States, where she was born. Following her brush with breast cancer and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage, which allowed me to become a legal resident as her wife, we left our jobs—hers as a finance executive and mine as a police constable on the counterterrorism unit—and packed up for Miami.

We loved our new home, but unlike in the U.K., where health care is essentially free, we were unprepared for the expense of care, especially without support through an employer. Taking advantage of October discounts on mammograms, I scheduled my very first one in October 2017. The results showed I needed a second mammogram, but I wasn’t too worried. Around the same time, I applied for a job as a dispatcher in the University of Miami Police Department. I really wanted to work at the U after meeting several UM employees who speak so highly of their workplace.

I started working at the University in January 2018 and was grateful to learn that my health care coverage began on my first day of employment. One month later, I went to The Lennar Foundation Medical Center to see my new primary care physician, who referred me for a biopsy. From the moment we set foot into Lennar, we were greeted with smiles and treated personally and efficiently as we were directed to the doctor’s office. This was the most positive experience with health care we’d had thus far in the U.S.

Behind the scenes at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center, where Mondays are the new Fridays.

When I went back to Lennar for my follow-up mammogram and biopsy, I felt so comfortable in the spa-like living room, wearing a cozy robe instead of a scratchy piece of paper. Every step of the process was explained to me, so I didn’t feel like a number getting pushed through a machine. A few days later, I received a call from surgical oncologist Susan Kesmodel. I had breast cancer. I still can’t wrap my head around that. I’m 41, I’ve never smoked, I don’t drink, and I exercise regularly and eat right. How is that possible?

Caroline Shipman and Dr. Kasmodel
Caroline Shipman and Dr. Kesmodel 

Surgery was scheduled promptly, and I was happy it would be done at Lennar with Dr. Kesmodel and UM plastic surgeon Wrood Kassira for the reconstruction. These physicians were coordinating my care as quickly and professionally as possible, and I could tell they were experienced with helping people deal with what I was about to face. Every woman who goes through breast cancer has to make life-changing decisions, and they gave me and my wife access to all the resources available to make informed decisions about mastectomy versus lumpectomy, including genetic testing.

On the day of surgery, I was assigned a personal nurse who reassured me she would stay with me until I woke up. My surgery took almost seven hours. I awoke groggy and disoriented, but I remember that everyone took great effort to make sure I was comfortable. It also made a big difference to know that Carol could stay overnight with me in the room. When the night nurse went off duty in the morning, she came in to say goodbye and gave me a hug. That personal, caring element was present throughout the whole experience.

As a new UM employee who would have to be out of the office for several weeks, I worried that I might lose my job. My colleagues called and sent flowers, and could not have been more supportive. One coworker pulled Carol and me aside before the surgery, held our hands, and prayed with us. This in-depth connection—the notion that as part of the U, we are all our brother’s keepers, educators, supporters, and family—made such a big difference in relieving my anxiety.

Now that I’m back to work full time, I can’t envision working anywhere else, and I look forward to a long career as a ’Cane. I have completed my radiation therapy and am active again. I look forward to participating in the 2019 Dolphins Cancer Challenge ride, my second DCC but my first as a cancer survivor. As a UM employee, a cancer survivor, and a Hurricanes fan, I’m excited to be part of something that has given so much back to me and to my family.