Momentum Award: Carly Pariseau

If Carly Pariseau pays a visit to your office, it’s usually for a bad reason.

As the associate athletic director for compliance, it’s Pariseau’s job to understand and interpret the intricate web of NCAA eligibility rules. Those rules cover issues that range from academic eligibility, to the receipt of impermissible benefits, to offseason practice limitations. If you get a visit from compliance, it’s usually because one of those incredibly nuanced rules was broken, and you have a problem on your hands.

So on one early October afternoon this past fall, when Pariseau started making the rounds to the offices of all the members of the BC athletics senior staff, they were understandably horrified.

“Most people have a heart attack when they see me coming into their office because they think I’m there to tell them they have a violation and they’re in trouble,” Pariseau said.

But it wasn’t a violation this time around, she assured them. She had no rules violations to report, so she watched as the faces across the desk from her relaxed slightly, if only for a moment.

Then another terrible thought crossed their minds—after 10 years, Pariseau, a beloved member of the athletic department family, was leaving BC.

Wasn’t that either, Pariseau would reply—she loved it at BC. Couldn’t imagine herself elsewhere.

Her response was met with perplexity. What, then, could have brought Pariseau into each of these offices on this particular day?

“Well,” she recalls telling her colleagues, “I have breast cancer.”

Pariseau would need to spend at least two months out of the office, the first of those consisting of minimal contact with the outside world. She planned to have surgery, scheduled for less than a month from the day she received the diagnosis. She was fully confident in her staff’s ability to function normally in her absence.

Pariseau knew there was no real other way to tell them—she just laid it out there, unsure of how they would react. She wasn’t expecting the reactions that she got, though.

“Everybody was so concerned that they either had a violation or that I was leaving,” Pariseau said, “so when I told them that it was breast cancer, it was almost a bit of relief.”

It might sound selfish or insensitive—hearing that a coworker, a friend, a mentor has cancer, and feeling relieved? But those first-impression reactions are just about as far from selfish as possible. The fact that her bosses weren’t any more emotional than Pariseau speaks to her fighting spirit. It speaks to her methodic, calculated determination. It speaks to the confidence they had that Pariseau would challenge her foe head-on.

Her coworkers saw it a little bit differently, however.

Deputy Athletics Director Jaime Seguin has worked alongside Pariseau since coming to BC from the University of Massachusetts in May 2014, and the two have become close friends during that time. She, too, remembers the day that Pariseau dropped the bombshell on her coworkers. But when they came to talk to Seguin after those meetings, she saw a side of them that Pariseau didn’t.

“Some people were choked up and in tears after she informed them of her diagnosis,” Seguin said. “Quickly after, though, everyone started asking, ‘What can we do to help?’”

Chris Cameron, too, remembers how emotional he was the day that Carly dropped by his office. The associate athletic director recalls a lot of hugs, an abundance of offerings of support, and a time of honest conversation.

“We’ve all been affected by cancerit’s not exactly good news that you want to hear,” Cameron said. “You’re obviously empathetic, and your first reaction is one of support. That’s what BC does best. If you fall, someone will be there to pick you up.”

For the first few months after Pariseau lost her hair, she wore a hat just about everywhere she went.

Part of it was undoubtedly because of the cold winter weather, sure, but it was deeper than that. For a while, Pariseau had some difficulty coming to terms with her situation, and for good reason. She was a former collegiate volleyball player, a woman in good health who never smoked and had no family history of cancer. Why her?

“You can drive yourself crazy trying to answer that question,” Pariseau said. “So, I flipped the question and said, ‘Well, why not me?’ There are women that are much healthier than I am that get it. There are also women in much poorer health than I am and don’t get it. There’s really no rhyme or reason for it, and it’s hard.”

Instead of wallowing in sadness, Pariseau mobilized her army and prepared to fight. She researched everything she could about her symptoms and her courses of action. She attacked it just like she would an NCAA rule.

And attack it she did, even as she faced setbacks. Pariseau originally thought she would only have to undergo surgery for treatment, but found out shortly after she would need rounds of chemotherapy and radiation because the cancer had spread farther than expected.

But the setback was just that—a setback. It didn’t derail her. After surgery in November, Pariseau began chemotherapy treatments in December and finished in February. She started radiation shortly after in March, completing that round of treatment early in April. Pariseau returned to the office after the end of Winter Break in January, and only missed work occasionally for her treatments. Yes, her hair was gone. Yes, her brain will occasionally take slightly longer to make connections with her memory—she calls those lapses “chemo brain moments.”

But Pariseau was there at work, and that’s more than a lot of people could have managed at the time. People took notice, too.

“My grandmother had breast cancer and I watched it take a lot out of her,” BC women’s hockey forward Dana Trivigno said. “Watching Carly, you couldn’t even know.”

Whenever Pariseau found herself down after her diagnosis, she liked to try to accomplish two things: laughing and learning.

The laughing part was easy because she does it so often. Immediately after receiving her diagnosis, Pariseau went home and watched Frozen with her parents. She wanted to take a valuable chance to turn out the world and, in her words, “let it go”—pun presumably intended.

“I just needed something to sing along to,” Pariseau said with a smile.

The learning, on the other hand, came with a bit more effort. Pariseau, whose office is lined with books about sports, motivation, and empowerment, soaks up information like a sponge. She recalls checking Google for inspirational women who have dealt with similar struggles.

Pariseau quickly named Today Show co-host Hoda Kotb as an influential woman in her life, but she couldn’t remember the name of another inspiration.

“I’m trying to think of her name, but I’m drawing a blank on it,” Pariseau said. “She’s a correspondent for ESPN, she had breast cancer, the lady that does the NFL with the long, strawberry-blonde hair. Shelley… Smith? I think it’s Shelley Smith.”

Excluding a few mental lapses here and there, Pariseau says her mind is now operating at close to full speed. Her body, however, will still occasionally impose limitations.

“What she wanted and what her body allowed were two very different things,” Seguin said. “Her mind wanted to work a full week, but her body would tell her no.”

Whenever she felt weak, Pariseau would look to her sources of inspiration—the Kotbs, the Smiths, the Robin Robertses in her life. She watched their journeys with breast cancer unfold on television, and she watches them now, their mere presence on screen a giant middle finger to the disease that nearly ravaged all of them. Pariseau watches them on television and feels hope—for herself, and for all women who are presently dealing with the same exact situation.    

When you think about it, though, it’s a bit ironic that someone who relied so heavily on inspiration from others was such an inspirational figure herself.

And boy, does the BC community consider her an inspiration. When Pariseau was in the hospital, her first visitor was—to no one’s surprise—men’s hockey head coach Jerry York. Football head coach Steve Addazio checked in on her a few times over the phone. Student-athletes from BC men’s track personally paid for her grocery delivery. She got enough flower bouquets, Edible Arrangements, and home-cooked meals to last a lifetime.

But Pariseau meant something special to women’s hockey, since, as the program’s administrator, that’s the one she spent the most time around.

“At the beginning of the year we heard about how sick she was, and we rallied around her, and she rallied around us,” sophomore goalie Katie Burt said. “I think we gave her a bit of hope too, but she gave us something to play for other than ourselves.”  

For the first few months after Pariseau lost her hair, she wore a hat just about everywhere she went.

But the day I first met her, a beautiful Thursday morning in the middle of April, when the sun radiated more energy than a machine ever could, Pariseau was not wearing a hat. She strolled down the hallway outside her Conte Forum office, grinning from ear to ear and chatting with those she passed by.

She took the better part of an hour that morning to chat with me about the things that bring her down, the things that lift her up, and the people who have been there every step of the way. Upon the completion of our meeting, I thanked her for her time and congratulated her on the recent end of her treatment. She smiled appreciatively and walked me out of her office.

Then she sat down at her desk and got back to work.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

Tom DeVoto

Tom is the Editor-in-Chief of The Heights Newsletter. He is also the A1 Editor of The Heights. You can follow him on Twitter @TLDeVoto.

Learn More →