Carol Carola rattles off dates that mark the stages of her breast cancer and her fight against the painful disease: Jan. 25, 2013, diagnosed. Feb. 11, started chemo.
“I was cancer free for eight years and then bam, it came back again in January,” the co-owner of the Bagelicious bagel shop in East Cobb told the AJT recently.
The cancer seems to have spread to her stomach, esophagus and colon, so she went to MD Anderson Cancer Center earlier this month “to see if there’s something else they can do.”
They didn’t have any promising solutions to share and more recently, she’s been in and out of the emergency room, according to close friends.
While battling the debilitating disease, Carola also has been struggling during the pandemic to preserve the business she owns with husband Tom. Not to mention her nine days in the hospital fighting COVID last year.
Big signs on the front doors boldly state that masks are still required (except when eating) and to “be courteous and social distance” – for good reason.
Despite her health struggles, Carola sat in front of her shop this weekend, greeting customers by name and thanking them for attending a community gathering in her honor to boost business and raise awareness for breast cancer. Team Boobulahs’ A Breast Cancer Schmear Campaign was organized by a local Jewish group of participants in the annual Georgia 2-Day Walk for Breast Cancer. To give back to Bagelicious, which has been a community gathering spot for 30 years, the breast cancer walk Team Boobulahs decided to turn the tables on the bagel shop owner.
Selling Team Boobulahs T-shirts and promotional items in front of Bagelicious, the campaign raised nearly $5,000 toward the 2-Day walk in October, according to team leaders. Bagelicious also pledged to donate a portion of sales, which included specially prepared pink bagels.
In the past, Bagelicious has allowed the team, among other groups, to promote themselves and fundraise in front of the store. “She has been very supportive of the team and the team is very supportive of her and her sister,” Addie Schneider, a team founder, said at the event Sunday.
Later that day, Carola told the AJT, “The support was great, a lot of old and new faces.” Her husband thanked Team Boobulahs, led by its captain. “I want to thank Bonnie [Lamberg], and the whole staff did an excellent job, and the community for all their support.” He had difficulty putting into words his emotions. But he expressed appreciation for the community gathering, acknowledging it was “hard to wrap my heart and mind around how much all this means to me and my family.”
Among those who came to support Carola Sunday was Carol Sacks and her husband Brian. “It’s so sad; I didn’t know her cancer had reoccurred.” Sacks, sitting outside waiting for her husband to get through the order line, said that before the pandemic, she saw Carola catering onegs at Congregation Etz Chaim after Shabbat services most weeks. “She was there a lot.”
David Schwartz, part of Team Boobulahs’ male support team, said “Carol is a fixture” in the community. “There aren’t very many Jewish families whose simchas she and Tommy have not been involved in.”
During the pandemic, Carola saw the catering business that makes up half of her revenues dry up. “I would do five temples on a weekend,” she told the AJT during a pre-event interview at Bagelicious last month. Still, the business kept all of its original employees and pivoted to curbside pickup and boxed lunches, she said.
With 30 years in a location that hasn’t changed much in that time, Bagelicious is known not only for catering simchas for Atlanta’s synagogues. The owners extend the old-fashioned honor payback system when customers don’t have the required cash or check – no credit cards are accepted, though there’s an ATM in back – and give donations whenever asked to local school sports teams. Pictures of those teams grace the bagel shop’s walls along with New York Yankees memorabilia supporting the owners’ beloved hometown team.
“COVID has been so devastating; we want to celebrate bringing business back,” Debra Faulk, a member of Team Boobulahs, said during the pre-event interview.
Team captain Lamberg described Bagelicious as the place family comes together. “Carol and Bagelicious were involved in every bridal show and engagement, and bat and bar mitzvah. Carol has been here for everybody. We should be here for her.”
Lamberg, a hairstylist, recalled cutting Carola’s wigs that covered the hair she lost during chemotherapy. “I cleaned up the wigs; nobody knew.” Those wigs have since been given to others battling cancer, Carola said.
The bagel shop icon admits she has good and bad days. “I live on pain medicine and patches. Last time I had a blockage, I didn’t eat for eight days. This weekend I felt like someone beat me up. I rested and did not eat for two days” and felt better. “I learned when the intestines kicks up I can’t eat anything, to relax and don’t eat and just drink. I had two seizures I thought was COVID in September and November. I just got my drivers license back in April.”
Carola points to a family history of cancer. Her sister’s breast cancer has spread like Carola’s and her mother died from breast cancer at 60. Carola said she also lost two maternal aunts and two maternal cousins to cancer. She added that her own genetic testing came back negative.
How does she learn to live with all the pain? She points to a silver necklace she wears around her neck to remain hopeful. It simply states: “I’m a Survivor.” To that, Carola adds, “It’s not going to get to me. It will not get me. I have a business to run and people who depend on me. I can’t give up.”
As a testament to her determination, she holds a family dinner every Sunday and even if she’s not well enough to participate, her family gathers. “If I can’t be down there, I will be in my room.” She finds comfort in the sounds of their laughter and banter.
In terms of the community outreach, Carol concluded during the pre-event interview, “I think it’s wonderful.” And what of the projected boost to the shop’s business? Well that seemed to tickle her pink too.
- Roni Robbins
- Carol Carola
- MD Anderson Cancer Center
- Tom Carola
- Georgia 2-Day Walk for Breast Cancer
- Breast Cancer Schmear Campaign
- Debra Faulk
- Team Boobulahs
- Addie Schneider
- Bonnie Lamberg
- Carol Sacks
- Brian Sacks
- David Schwartz
- congregation etz chaim
- Atlanta’s synagogues
- New York Yankees