Carol Wadley’s and Dr. Sam Makhoul’s worlds collided in 2005 when Wadley was diagnosed with breast cancer and Makhoul became her oncologist at CARTI. It would be the start of a long medical relationship and eventual friendship as she went on to subsequently battle stage 4 metastatic malignant melanoma, thyroid cancer and a recurrence of melanoma over an 18-year period.
Today, Makhoul attributes perseverance and lifestyle changes to Wadley’s remission.
“She had something special,” he says. “In terms of her personality, she is a strong woman. She has an opinion about things and she has grit and a desire to live and fight. The other thing she has is curiosity.”
A personal connection is not uncommon for Makhoul, who often gives his cellphone number to his patients to help build trust and friendship during a difficult time. Makhoul says he sees all his patients as family members, and he wants to be available for them when emergencies arise.
“When people put their lives in your hands and trust you, to me, that is the ultimate badge of honor,” Makhoul says. “This mutual respect and ability to work on the project of their health and their lives — when someone comes to me, I am honored because they chose me. They are in my circle now.”
Following her first diagnosis, Wadley made an effort to be an informed patient and was open to medical studies. In addition to taking part in research, she also took control of her physical health and implemented more activity into her previously sedentary lifestyle.
“After I got the ‘all clear,’ I decided I was going to start cycling,” Wadley says. “I found a local cycling club, lost about 80 pounds, and I’ve kept it off.”
The effects, she says, have been numerous.
“The oxygenation, perspiration, the respiration — all of that is cleansing for your body, and so I have a lot of determination. I just want to live. I’ve got things to do.”
Running was always Makhoul’s exercise of choice, but knee pain had him looking for an alternative. That’s when Wadley began to suggest cycling during their office visits. Makhoul then purchased a secondhand professional bike and soon found his own love for the sport. Now he regularly cycles with his son and two of their friends.
“Our goal is to be together and push ourselves,” he says. “It’s so enjoyable and it increases my range. I have never discovered Little Rock like I have since I started cycling.”
“There are so many places we can bike that you can’t get to in a vehicle,” she adds. “You can smell the jasmine and the honeysuckle. We ride by the lavender by Maumelle Park, and you can see deer. You just take it all in. There are so many endorphins that come automatically. These are value-added benefits.”
Each summer, Makhoul and Wadley both participate in CARTI’s Tour de Rock cycling event. Marking its 20th year on June 3, Tour de Rock is one of Arkansas’ largest cycling events, attracting more than 850 cyclists to the Little Rock metro. To date, the event has raised more than $2 million for CARTI’s mission to make trusted cancer care accessible to all Arkansans. Makhoul admires Wadley’s participation in research and is proud to be a part of giving more Arkansans that opportunity.
“What we want to relay here at CARTI is that every patient would have a research option at every stage of their disease, and I think we can deliver on that because we are the only network that covers a large surface area of the state and brings research to where patients are,” Makhoul says. “We’re not fully there yet, but this is our dream. Because the thing that might save your life is probably in research today. The experimental drug today will be the standard of care tomorrow.”
When the standards of care at the time didn’t work for Wadley, she knew she wanted to be part of clinical trials.
“When you’ve got nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. So, I said, ‘Sign me up!’ I never dreamed I would be here 14 years later, so I’m very thankful for that.”
The duo’s efforts have inspired and caught the attention of others across the city and within the cancer center, including CARTI President and CEO Adam Head.
“It’s incredibly moving to see team members like Dr. Makhoul exemplify CARTI’s mission by participating in Tour de Rock,” Head says. “Every day, our doctors and staff go the extra mile for our patients and their families. We are committed to walking or, in Dr. Makhoul and Carol’s case, riding alongside them through every step of their cancer journeys. The funds we raise through CARTI Foundation events like Tour de Rock make this support possible.”
Jennifer Selig, the foundation’s executive director, needs no convincing that Tour de Rock is more than just a cycling race.
“It’s an opportunity to help those touched by cancer in our state and to make a difference for those still fighting. When riders click in to support our Patient Assistance Program, they’re ensuring their loved ones, neighbors and community members receive the lifesaving cancer care they need.”
Even though she’s currently in remission, Wadley still meets with Makhoul periodically to keep tabs on her health. She credits their strong faith as the main basis for their connection through the years.
“Any time I had a scary, life-threatening situation, [my faith] always drew me closer. Dr. Makhoul respected that because he understood where I was coming from as a patient. It’s not just body — it’s mind, spirit and soul.”
“The spiritual dimension of the cancer experience is so strong, and Carol expressed that beautifully,” Makhoul says. “It brings us all together as a community.”