MADISONVILLE, Ky. (9/18/13) – At 32 years old, having a malignant breast tumor was believed to be a long shot. But after repeated examinations of a cyst over a three-year period by her OBGYN, Stephanie Oakley made an appointment with a surgeon because she was concerned about the lump in her right breast.
A mammogram revealed what the surgeon and Stephanie feared - cancer.
"The lump seemed to come and go," said Stephanie. "It was painful and seemed to flare up in between menstrual cycles. I trusted my OB but in the back of my mind, I didn't feel right."
With the diagnosis came, many of the traditional tests and treatments for breast cancer began - scans, blood tests, chemo, hair loss, surgery, more surgery and radiation, said Stephanie.
"I was 35 then and had no idea there was cancer growing in my body," she said. "I didn't think young people got breast cancer. I never knew anyone with breast cancer. Never in a million years would I think I had it."
The cancer was diagnosed as hormone positive invasive ductal carcinoma and a lumpectomy performed.
During the four-month round of chemo, Stephanie suffered a life-threatening jugular blood clot near the port used to deploy her medicines.
"I learned that blood clots are common around a port but most are superficial," said Stephanie. "Yet having it in a jugular vein is rare and very dangerous."
After the chemo, four lymph nodes were discovered to have cancer cells. Stephanie decided to see a surgeon at Vanderbilt to have her entire right breast removed.
In February 2012, Stephanie began having problems with her left leg. A PET scan revealed a spot but further tests were inconclusive.
"I dealt with it until I finally asked for additional tests," said Stephanie. "I had a bone scan in April 2012 that showed a possible recurrence of my breast cancer, but again, no imaging supported this."
Stephanie said all her doctors believed the problems to be caused by arthritis but she insisted on having an MRI. In June 2012, an MRI confirmed that a tumor had damaged her femur enough to cause a fracture. A biopsy revealed it was metastatic breast cancer that had spread.
"Even after the breast surgery, blood cloths and chemotherapy, I would not wish orthopedic surgery on my worst enemy," said Stephanie.
After the tumor was removed from the femur, a titanium rod was inserted from Stephanie's hip to knee.
Stephanie has since had her left breast removed, her ovaries removed and takes a hormone blocker to reduce the chance of feeding other possible tumors. She also has six-week injections of medications to strengthen her bones and help protect them from the cancer cells.
After several rounds of scans, there has been no evidence of metastatic recurrence, said Stephanie.
"I call myself cancer free on a daily basis," she said. "Through my cancer journey, as I was fighting to live, God taught me how to live. He taught me that in this world, there always will be negative obstacles and trials. He also taught me that I can choose to overcome those obstacles or they will overcome me. Jesus has already overcome the world, so every day I have a choice to do the same."
During her journey from diagnosis to now, Stephanie said she felt a little uncomfortable about talking to others in public about her struggles. She has since accepted that she cannot encourage others if she's not willing to share her experiences with others.
She has formed a Breast Cancer Support Group in Madisonville and will host its first meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23 at Baptist Health Women's Center on 800 Hospital Drive, Madisonville. All survivors and caregivers are welcome.
Two special speakers - massage therapist Connie Argier, who will talk about the benefit of massage therapy during chemo and after mastectomies; and, a Plexus Worldwide representative demonstrating the Plexus pink breast check kit.
Another message Stephanie wants to spread is that breast cancer can affect younger women and that research and early detection are critical in women's health.
Stephanie has been employed at Baptist Health for 16 years; is married to Chris Oakley; and they have two daughters, Megan, 9, and Gracie, 12.
Rita Dukes Smith
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