Survivor Stories 2015:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
Like many other breast cancer survivor stories, I found a lump in my breast. I noticed it at my little sister’s birthday party. Because the lump didn’t feel right, I set up an appointment with my OBGYN. I go every year for a checkup and never missed any appointments, so I wasn’t really concerned. When I went in for my appointment, I was told the lump was nothing to worry about, but I was really self-conscious after this. When I went to the gym, I felt like people could tell that one breast was larger than the other. So, I decided to meet with a general surgeon to remove the lump because it was bugging me. I wanted to see what he thought. I knew that the lump was nothing, but something told me to just do the surgery.
I had the surgery on a Friday and was back to work on Monday. At work, I received a voicemail on my cell. It was my surgeon and he said to call him back. I went into the office back break room and called him right back because I had that queasy feeling in my stomach. He said that the lump he removed was tested and it was malignant. I had to think when he said that…is that cancer or not? Then he told me he was sorry. When he said “I’m so sorry,” I knew it was cancer.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I called my husband (boyfriend at the time) but he didn’t answer, so I texted him to call me a.s.a.p. due to an emergency. We both took off work to go home. When you get that kind of news, you’re just not prepared for it. We went home and cried for a while. We didn’t understand why this happened to me. We were both healthy people. It was a huge shock. After the diagnosis, everything went so fast, but I decided to fight.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Initially, I received four rounds of one chemotherapy drug at my hometown hospital every two weeks. In fact, I began chemotherapy only a week before my wedding. After I was diagnosed, my husband Kyle proposed to me. We decided that cancer wouldn’t stand in our way and planned our wedding in only a month.
I continued the first cycle of chemotherapy, which was difficult on my body. It got a little worse with each dose, going bi-weekly; then weekly on a different combo of chemo drugs. After completing 16 rounds of chemotherapy, I had surgery to remove lymph nodes and tumor margins.
After the chemotherapy, I wanted a more integrative approach, and had Calypso® radiation therapy at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® at Midwestern Regional Medical Center. In addition to radiation, I sought out integrative therapies including physical therapy, naturopathic medicine and spiritual support.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
The Calypso® radiation made so much sense and I had never heard of it anywhere else. It’s a way to monitor my breathing to administer radiation only when my other organs are as far away from the site being radiated as possible. Beyond this unique treatment option, everyone helping you fight cancer is visibly in their profession for a reason and treats you like family. I saw this everywhere – no matter what hospital I was in.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Stay as positive as you can! Don’t let negative thoughts enter the brain. Always take the positive road and realize that everybody’s walk is different. And do not randomly look stuff up online – stick to educated reliable sources for your information.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I completed radiation treatment in March of this year. My six-month MRI was clear and at this time, I am in remission and enjoying every day.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Life is precious and I cherish every moment. I feel compelled to use this awkward blessing from God to help educate and encourage others to: Ask questions, get educated, and be your own health advocate. Stand up if you don’t think something is right and pursue it until you have an answer. Your health and life is worth more than any amount of money.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Just be there as support. Try not to ask too many questions; between cancer and appointments, the patient’s own mind can be overwhelmed enough. Jump in and provide meals/get their desired grocery list, clean the house or do laundry for the patient. Just do it instead of asking for them to let you know what they need because it’s just so much to even try to think of when you’re going through everything. And stay positive!
Samantha Stephenson is a 30-year-old from Southeast Wisconsin who was diagnosed with triple-negative, stage II breast cancer in 2014. Working in a dental office as an office manager, she has a strong understanding of preventative care. Because of this, she not only took action in her own life when she found a lump in her breast, but she encourages women of all ages to do the same and be an advocate for their health. When not sharing her message of hope, Samantha spends her time at church and participates in event planning, most recently for a woman’s retreat. She was married to Kyle Stephenson on July 26, 2014, only a month after receiving her cancer diagnosis. They recently celebrated their one-year anniversary together.