By Christina Whiting
For many, the new year provides an opportunity for new beginnings. For Carmen Field, the new year offers a chance to rekindle a love affair with her former life.
Diagnosed with breast cancer on her 50th birthday last year, Field now feels healthier than ever, and is eager to step back into the life she has always loved.
One of Field’s passions is storytelling.
“I would drop everything to hear a good story,” she said. “Even as a child I was like this. My daughter Eryn is the same way.”
Working as a lecturer and naturalist on ships that have taken her to Antarctica 61 times, Field has developed a knack for storytelling. Now she’s excited to share some of her own stories.
“I have a book in my head called ‘Let Them Catch Frogs,’” she said. “It will be a memoir that reflects on how my childhood in the outdoors influenced my views of nature as an adult.”
She is also writing a screenplay about a rockfish. It’s an animated adventure about a yellow-eyed rockfish racing to save her dying grandfather. Last year, Field had been granted a seven-month sabbatical from work to develop her screenplay, but cancer derailed her plans.
Field’s book and screenplay are inspired by nature — and this is no accident. She spent much of her childhood outdoors.
“I spent the summer months at my family’s cottage in Michigan where I ran barefoot, swam, explored, sailed and caught frogs,” she said.
With a love for the natural world and wanting a job where she would work outdoors, Field earned a bachelor of science degree in biology and wildlife management. She met Conrad, her future husband, in a forestry class in college. Their first date was identifying winter trees on campus, as a review for a test.
In 1986, Field moved to Alaska in search of steady employment.
“I figured Alaska had more wildlife, so I should be able to find a job,” she explained.
While looking for work, she lived in her sister’s dorm, until a University of Alaska Anchorage security found her and kicked her out. She then bought a beat-up truck that was held together with a bungee cord, and gave beer to whomever would stop to help her when the truck broke down — which was often.
In Anchorage, she worked as a zoo interpreter and gift shop manager, but then left Alaska to work as an environmental educational specialist in coastal Georgia. She also did seabird research off the coast of Maine, studying Arctic terns, razorbills and Atlantic puffins.
“I lived in a lighthouse on a little island with three other people for a summer,” she said. “Conrad was on an island seven miles away. I could see the island through a scope, but not him.”
In 1989, Carmen and Conrad returned to Alaska and moved to Homer. During her time in Homer, Field worked as a naturalist at Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, a ferry naturalist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at refuge stewardship camps in Alaska’s remote communities for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and taught biology classes at Kachemak Bay Campus. She and Conrad have both also found seasonal employment lecturing on ships around the world.
Field has worked as a biologist, educator and naturalist with the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve for the past 14 years. Involved in environmental education and outreach projects, she is active with Kerr’s Kids in Nature and fishing programs.
“I value my involvement in the national, state and local movement to get kids outside,” she said.
Spending as much time as she can outdoors for work and play, Field loves to icefish, Nordic and skate ski, play tennis, bike and run. In high school, she was a sprinter on the track team and ran cross-country throughout high school and her freshmen year of college.
Field turned to her family and friends for support when she was diagnosed with cancer.
“Conrad and Eryn held down the fort,” she said.
She also turned to her active lifestyle to sustain her.
“I got through eight months of treatments as well as I did because I got really good care and lots of support from my community of family and friends,” she said. “I also got through it because of a big shift in my diet and because I exercised religiously.”
During five months of chemotherapy, Field exercised every day.
“I ran 100 miles and walked 130 miles through chemotherapy, one day at a time,” she said. “I ran until I couldn’t run anymore, then I walked, six days a week, two miles or less at a time.”
During radiation, she ran or walked five days a week.
“I’m not glad I got cancer, but some really good things have come out of it,” she said. “I’m healthier than I have ever been. I eat better and I feel better. And I appreciate the people around me. Each day, I’m alive a bit more.”
Stepping back into her life, Field is eager to re-celebrate her 50th birthday, take a much-needed family vacation and spend time writing and reflecting. Last week, she returned to work part-time. She keeps busy taking Eryn to extracurricular activities including Youth Theater, Jazzline, after-school skating and Kachemak Swim Club.
“Eryn keeps me on my toes,” she said.
Carmen Field is learning to take life one day at a time.
“When I was first diagnosed, there were so many unknowns,” she said. “But once I had a team of doctors in place and we had a plan, things got easier and I found my stride. I was able to make peace with the hand I’d been dealt. Now I feel great.”
If you’d like to read Carmen’s ongoing journal entries sharing her experience with cancer, visit her Caring Bridge website at caringbridge.org/visit/carmenc2.
Meet your Neighbor shares the story of residents of Homer and the surrounding area. If you’d like to suggest someone for a story, contact Christina Whiting at email@example.com.
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