Cancer Survivor’s Role in Rose Parade Celebration

FILE PHOTO: City of Hope | SouthPasadenan.com News | Jeff Carpenter is joined by Dr. Ravi Salgia, his medical oncologist at City of Hope

It was a Thursday afternoon in late November of 2016 at the age of 56 when Jeff Carpenter, as he describes it, “had a strange issue with my vision.”

The following day, he began speaking words out of sequence, sounding an alarm something wasn’t quite right. “I could hear myself saying them wrong, but saying them again didn’t help, recalls Carpenter, a longtime South Pasadena resident, struggling to coherently put sentences together.

A trip to a local emergency room revealed a lemon-sized brain tumor, along with others throughout both lungs. The diagnosis for a person who had never smoked was freighting as doctors discovered Carpenter had lung cancer that spread to his brain.

He was given three to six months to live.

The following Tuesday morning, Carpenter had his first appointment at City of Hope. A week later, surgery was scheduled to remove the brain tumor, followed by radiation treatment. “A biopsy of the brain tumor revealed that I could be treated with a targeted therapy, and that treatment began the following month,” he remembers, thankful it proved successful.

Two years later, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan showed no evidence of disease and he feels blessed to talk about it today after coming to City of Hope, undergoing the intricate brain surgery that eliminated all tumors in his lungs and brain.

“I continue to be free of any signs of cancer to this day,” Carpenter said, extremely grateful for the care he received along the journey to a clean bill of health. “I just celebrated my 60th birthday – a celebration I could not have imagined just a few years ago. City of Hope is responsible for that. The doctors and staff are the cream of the crop.”

In January 2020 before any signs of COVID-19, Carpenter rode along with other cancer survivors on the City of Hope float in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day. While the 2021 parade was cancelled, the Tournament of Roses presented a TV entertainment morning special – “The Rose Parade’s New Year Celebration” – on January 1 featuring live-to-tape musical and marching band performances, an historical look at past parades, and celebrity appearances. Aired from 8-10 a.m. both locally and nationally, the show also spotlighted past award-winning float participants and sponsors, their Rose Parade legacy and commitment to the community. Among them was the City of Hope, and front and center at one point in the telecast was Carpenter and others who had beaten cancer as they celebrated doctors, nurses, and new beginnings.

“This year’s filmed event came down to a 10-minute Zoom interview for me,” Carpenter explained. “It certainly didn’t have all the pomp and circumstance of the parade itself, but it did give me the chance to relive that day and to publicly thank City of Hope for all they have done for me.”

He’s always had what he calls “a sort of community pride” when it comes to the Rose Parade, even sleeping overnight for one along its route on Colorado Boulevard. “In recent years, the family tradition has been to walk all the way up Orange Grove after midnight, see the floats up close under the lights and take in the smell of the fresh flowers. Then we go home, crash and catch some of the parade on reruns between the games later on New Year’s Day.”

Carpenter never imagined being in it one day, explaining: “When City of Hope asked me to be on their float, I remember thinking ‘That’s nice, but if they call me up the day before to say they’ve found someone to replace me, I’ll be just as happy to sleep in.’ And, then the day came. The morning was cold and crisp and the air was full of anticipation. Friends of ours had flown in from Virginia to see the parade (it was on their bucket list) and now they had the added bonus of seeing me actually in it. The jets thundered overhead and our float started inching forward. The next thing I knew, the bands were playing and people were cheering. I could hear people shouting my name, and I tried to pick their faces out of the crowd. It was all so overwhelming. Once we got past the cameras and settled in to the long ride up Colorado Boulevard, something else started to happen. Every block or so I would hear someone say, ‘You saved my life,’ or something to that effect as our City of Hope float passed. A couple was holding hands, tears streaming down their faces, and a woman standing behind them pointed to the man and mouthed the words, ‘You saved his life.’”

The most moving moment riding in the parade for Carpenter came at its conclusion after the float turned the corner and started traveling north up Sierra Madre Boulevard. “The road narrowed and people were sitting just a few feet from the float,” he said. “We came upon a family. The mother and father sat up on a homemade bench, and the kids were on a blanket in front of them. One of the kids was bald and was wearing a facemask. The mother wept uncontrollably. Our float was stopped right in front of them as this scene played out. Ivan, one of my fellow cancer survivors who was sitting up front, got off, pulled a flower from the float and presented it to the mother. The Rose Parade holds a whole different meaning for me now.”

Today he wishes everyone had access to the kind of care City of Hope provides. “There are no guarantees in life, but I have had more good fortune than you have space here to write about,” said Carpenter. “I have a great family, a successful business and access to some of the best medical care on the planet. And the weather here is nothing to shake a stick at. My heart goes out to those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the loss of their own health or the loss of their livelihood these past nine months.”

Showing no signs of cancer, Carpenter and his family are working on turning a 10-year-old dream into reality after purchasing land overlooking the eastern Sierras with plans to build a cabin at the site. He owes it all to the City of Hope for giving him a second chance at life.

“I was so wrapped up in my struggle that it took me a while to recognize the doctors and nurses at City of Hope who worked so hard on my behalf,” he said. “It’s easy for me, now, to appreciate the efforts of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle. They deserve all of our thanks. We’ll get through this.”