Survivors

Liz Cahill

My cancer journey started 25 years ago when the company I worked for; Lee Jeans started Lee National Denim Day. We worked to raise money for research, and I was privileged to lead this program. In 20 years, we had raised over $100 million for research and I had been fortunate to work with some of the leading breast cancer research doctors across the country.

Then, 15 years ago when my best friend was diagnosed with triple negative her-2 positive breast cancer I was able to tap into this amazing community to help her find the right treatment. 10 years later she is cancer free.

11 months ago I found myself on the other side, I too would be diagnosed with Breast Cancer. March 15, 2019, I received the call that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, aka breast cancer. All the studying I had done immediately left my head. I was in shock and had no idea what would come next. We had just moved to Colorado, and my new doctors recommended I get a mammogram. At 56, I had regular mammograms and at times had to comeback for additional test as I had dense breast tissue. When the doctors called to have me comeback for more testing, all I thought was, “Oh, a new doctor and my dense tissue, they were doing what my previous doctors had done.”

Once they started the sonogram and immediately went to my right armpit, I knew this was different. After 15 minutes they scheduled my biopsy for Wednesday, and Friday we received the call with the news, you have Invasive ductal carcinoma. I was devastated.

I’m one of the lucky ones, who caught this diagnosis early. While I had 3 spots in my right breast (which I could never feel – thank god for mammograms!) it had not spread to my lymph nodes and I did not need radiation or chemotherapy.

My husband Matt is my Superhero. I had my double mastectomy in May 2019, and reconstruction started immediately. He has gone to EVERY doctor appointment with me. His love and humor has made this journey so much easier. At times he has been my Nurse Ratchet, but I love him so much for how well he has taken care of me.

My friends and family may not all live in Colorado, most live here in Kansas City. While they were not physically with me, I felt their love and support every day. Finally, I can say Breast Cancer saved my life. How? Well, during a checkup with my oncologist, Dr. Diab they noticed something on my back. They suggested I go get it looked at as soon as possible. Yep, you guessed it, I had melanoma on my back. Again, caught early, but not sure if we would have spotted this with out a doctor checking me out. I am now cancer free and finishing up my reconstruction next month. What a journey, but so grateful to my family and friends who have been there for me every step. Now it’s my time to pay it forward!

Lisa Fassett

Hello, my name is Lisa Fassett. I’m 59 years old and I’ve been married 27 years to my husband Stan Fassett who is retired from the US Marine Corps. We have three children, a daughter Jaszmyne Elizabeth (32), Stanford William II (26), and Steffon Rynell (24), and one grandson Aiden William Fassett (8) with another grandchild on the way in March 2020. My story actually begins in March 2001 when a cyst was found in my right breast during a routine mammogram. At the time of this diagnosis, I was 41 and our children were 13, 8, and 5. In October 2001 after having a second mammogram I was told the words no woman ever wants to hear “YOU HAVE CANCER.”

With God’s help I went through the entire process which consisted of a lumpectomy, lymph node dissection, radiation and chemo. Life was good because I made it through chemo which was very hard and was cancer free! Fast forward to February 2019, during another routine mammogram a tumor is found in the same right breast. I was in total shock because I’d been cancer free for almost 18 years.

This time I’m diagnosed with invasive papillary carcinoma which is very rare form of breast cancer. In April 2019, I had double mastectomy and I just had the DIEP flap surgery in August. Having cancer affects everyone and everything in your life. I’ve had to push graduating from Baker University in December 2019 to hopefully May 2020. I wasn’t prepared for the difference almost 18 years makes in how slowly my body bounces back from surgery.

Dealing with fatigue and insomnia have been my greatest challenges so far. I thank God every day for His peace that passes all understanding and knowing that He has already gone before me. My husband Stan has been my rock and makes me laugh every day. To my siblings, extended family and my EC church family I want to say THANK YOU for your prayers, encouragement, love and support. I couldn’t have made it this far without each and every one of you. It’s your prayers that have literally pulled me through the rough times, especially when I couldn’t pray for myself.

If it wasn’t for my faith in God and knowing that He has a plan for me I don’t think I could’ve have made it this far. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV states “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I tell my youngest son all the time that he has to allow God to write his story so that’s what I’m doing now, allowing God to write my story. While cancer is a part of my story, cancer does not and will not have the final say. Only God has the final say and He says in Exodus 15:26 KJV “I am the Lord which healeth thee” and since God said it, I believe it and know He will bring it to pass!

Julie Filbeck

My cancer journey started on a Saturday morning, a normal Saturday morning in which I randomly found a small pea size lump in my right armpit. The following Friday I was told I had breast cancer and 6 days later I was told that the tumor covered ¾ of my right breast and all my right axilla lymph nodes were full of cancer as well.

It was 17 days between the time I found out I had cancer to the first time I sat in a chemo chair. Never have I been so thankful for a team to just look at me and say “we got you.” A lot of that time was a blur, so much emotion, so much disbelief, but through all of the tears I just remember saying to my husband “I’m not ok with my baby not knowing who her mama is.” My husband and I have 3 little ones, at the time of my diagnosis my oldest was 5 and my youngest was just 18 months.

After all the anger I decided that those 3 little babies were a really good reason to get up every day, even when the days sucked, and keep fighting! My husband carried me through this journey, he carried our home, he kept me grounded when I was scared, he made me laugh when I needed it, even crawled by my side to guide me, he fought the battle beside me. As a nurse I have always been the one to care for others, it was hard to be on the other side.

I love what I do and while difficult at first to be the one receiving care, this journey allowed me to see the gifts of so many people in my community. These are people that will forever be a part of my story, and I will be thankful to the Sarah Cannon team for picking me up at the most awful time in my life and carrying me and my family forward. I am grateful for each day I sat in that chair and they talked to me like a person, not like a person that had cancer. They listened to me talk about my kids, my husband, my brothers and my mom and dad.

They listened to whatever I needed to talk about to stay human through this journey. They showed me compassion and empathy; they made me more passionate as a nurse about the experience for all patients and families. You can never explain to people what the journey of cancer is like, and you can never explain to people how much the little things they do to support you along this journey mean.

Simple things like people sending cards (some even weekly ☺), sending messages, taking my kids to the pool for a fun day, helping with meals, spending the day with me while in my chemo chair, just calling to say “I am thinking of you.” That’s the stuff that gets you through this journey, that’s the stuff that hits you on a day that is awful and reminds you that you can, and you will get through this!

My battle with breast cancer continues even though I have made it through chemo, radiation and countless surgeries. As long as I am blessed with this life I will get up each day and fight, but I fight with a team. I fight with my family, my friends, with other survivors and with those that come to work each day at Sarah Cannon to help me win that fight. In my profession I live by the mantra of just give me chance. I guess you could say that is also how I showed up to battle cancer, just give me a chance and with all my might I will defeat you!

Lacey Fisher

“Probably it’s nothing. You’re super young and don’t have a family history. It would be extremely rare if it turned out to be anything.”

On June 3, 2020 I attended my yearly well women’s exam after having cancelled my original appointment set for March. (Afterall, the world had just shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and I was pretty sure I had a cough, maybe even a headache, potentially some chills, and definitely should NOT risk it. It would be irresponsible to keep the appointment, right? Right. Perfect excuse to avoid a pap!) During that routine exam, my doctor identified a very small mass in my left breast. She questioned if I’d noticed it before and I was honest with my response in that I don’t always know what it is I should be feeling.

She explained that her recommendation was to go ahead with a follow-up mammogram and I was scheduled for one just 5 days later: “Probably it’s nothing. You’re super young and don’t have a family history. It would be extremely rare if it turned out to be anything.” The tumor was not visible on my mammogram and only seen during an ultrasound; a procedure that was somewhat lackadaisically decided upon since “eh, why not? Your doctor said she felt something and you’re already here.”

A needle biopsy was scheduled for the following week. In the meantime, I received a phone call from a patient coordinator to explain that my doctor prefers her patients see a surgeon prior to the biopsy. In my naïve “there’s-no-way-this-is-anything-serious” brain, it felt a little overkill to be meeting with a surgeon before a biopsy had even been completed but I appreciated the thoroughness.

At the appointment with the surgeon, I was essentially walked through a cancer diagnosis: what to expect with the biopsy; when results would become available; types of breast cancer; and how a treatment plan would be presented before a team. I left the appointment in a state of numb indifference and prepared for the biopsy. On Wednesday, June 17, I received a phone call confirming that at 33 years strong, I had breast cancer.

Fortunately, my cancer was very early onset and I was a candidate for breast conservation surgery. I elected to have a lumpectomy of the tumor and nearby lymph nodes followed by 21 total rounds of radiation with 5 years of hormone therapy. No one is prepared to receive a cancer diagnosis.

At 33 years year strong, several years before mammograms are even recommended for women, and having zero family history of the disease, I was especially taken aback. Even now, it’s strange to call myself a “cancer survivor.” As the Executive Director of Kansas City Corporate Challenge — a program with health, wellness, and camaraderie at the very core of its mission — I have been given a platform to reach many people.

My hope is to use this platform and ultimately be seen as the posterchild for the importance of annual wellness checks, self-exams, and early detection. It truly can save a life. Cancer is a scary disease and it’s certainly not lost on me how lucky I am to have only had a “touch” of it. Care enough about yourselves and those that love you to take charge of your health.

Mandy Garavaglia

My name is Mandy Garavaglia and I am 36 years ok. Wife to Johnny and mama to Stella (6). I was diagnosed with stage 1c ovarian cancer on January 17, 2018. Here is my story of how lucky I was to find this undetectable disease.

At age 32, we had hoped to conceive another baby through IVF. I had always thought infertility was going to be my biggest heartbreak in life, but boy was I in for more challenging battles eventually. During a saline sonogram to check my uterus to make sure it was ready for implantation, there were polyps found in my uterus.

A surgery was preformed and about a week later I got a call saying the pathology had revealed that I had a early stage uterine cancer also known as endometrial cancer. At this time I was told to discontinue fertility and see a GYN oncologist.

Luckily, I was able to meet Dr. Julia Chapman at the cancer center. Dr. Chapman said conception was out of the question until there was a complete reversal of the endometrial cancer. To treat the cancer, she placed a device in my uterus to stop the growth of the lining.

Fast forward a year, I showed no signs of uterine cancer and I was given the green light to continue my fertility battle. Sadly, our dreams of another child never came to fruition but little did I know that god had a bigger plan to help me find what could have killed me at the perfect time.

Dr. Chapman recommended that I had my uterus taken out in July of 2017. I had been monitored closely every 3 months with ultrasound and biopsy but I still wasn’t ready. I asked to wait until the holidays were over and scheduled the hysterectomy in January of 2018. A week before surgery we did a routine ultrasound. The scan revealed a 10cm mass on my right ovary that had not been there 5 months prior.

The new surgery plan called for a zipper sized incision in my abdomen. Dr Chapman would remove the right ovary and send it to pathology. If the tumor was cancerous , she would then make an incision up to the breastbone, perform a full hysterectomy, and search for cancer in other organs and lymph nodes. I did not know when I went to sleep what I would wake up to.

Those were the scariest days of my life leading up to that day. When I woke, I saw my husband and he was crying. He then softly told me I had cancer and would have to do chemotherapy. I went through 4 rounds of high dose chemotherapy but thanks to my husband, was able to use cold capping to preserve my hair and keep some normalcy for my daughter.

In September of 2019 I also decided to do a prophylactic double mastectomy even though I tested negative for BRCA. During this long battle of infertility, cancer and multiple surgeries I have learned so many things. I have learned to advocate for myself despite my age and family history. I feel so blessed to have found these cancers early despite what I have lost. I have clung to those I love and the army of people who prayed for us and continue to do so today. I try to remember that god created our emotions, not just the happy ones. My moments of deepest grief, deepest pain, have resulted in the most beautiful seasons in my heart. I’ve met God more intimately in these moments than in all other happy moments combined.

Michelle Lemberger

On a typical Saturday in September, I was blowdrying my hair after spending a hot day at the baseball fields watching my boys play ball. I noticed a difference in the mirror. A dimple in my left breast that didn’t match the right.

As an Ob/Gyn, I do a lot of breast exams and I am tuned in to the warning signs and typical findings associated with breast cancer. I knew this warranted evaluation. But, it was Saturday so it would have to wait.

On Tuesday, I asked a nurse practitioner in my office to perform a breast exam. I told her I had felt a lump in one of my breasts and I wanted to see if it was real or if I had made something out of nothing. I also purposely did not tell her which breast it was in. While she did the exam, I watched her face. Her eyes told me I wasn’t imagining it. And it felt different where the lump was compared to other parts of my breast when she was examining me.

I went to the imaging center over my lunch period that day and had a mammogram and breast ultrasound done. I was 41 years old at the time with no family history of breast cancer. This probably wasn’t cancer. I remember the radiologist apologizing for the lump not showing up on the mammogram images. He even showed me the mammogram pictures. I couldn’t see it either. Then he showed me the ultrasound. There is was. An area that was irregular, spiculated, and suspicious. All three descriptors I never wanted to hear about my lump.

It was at that moment I realized this may very well be cancer. Three days later I had a biopsy and the report confirmed it was malignant. I shed a few tears, accepted some fears and made the decision to take this on with positivity. I would not allow myself to ask “why me?” and made it mission to be an example for my family, my friends and my patients. Feeling sorry for myself was not going to be allowed.

I knew treatment was going to be a drain and I wasn’t going to let negativity strip more energy from me. Bilateral mastectomy was my surgical choice and I have no regrets with that decision. Chemotherapy for four treatments started about 6 weeks later. I remember my hair started falling out the day before Thanksgiving. Clumps of it stuck to my hand in the shower. I was so worried I was going to lose hair into the dish I had to take to the family meal the next day.

I was also concerned that I had large spots on my head without hair. I didn’t want to go to work that way. I made my husband, Rodney, get out of bed and make sure I would look ok fo the day. After getting home, he helped me shave it that night. And then he shaved his own head. I embraced bald and let it be another opportunity for patients and strangers to ask questions. I realized having an opportunity to be an example and educate my patients and other people was the “why me?”…MY reason to have breast cancer!

A beautiful soul, fabulous nurse and dear friend of mine, Lori Mansur, decided to organize a Gala in my honor. We decided to put all proceeds toward breast cancer care and research. For three years we held the “Save Second Base Gala”. Our boys played baseball together so the name was perfect for the event.

A total of $30,000 was raised at those wonderful gatherings. It was a great reason to put on our fancy clothes and spend a fun night together. It wasn’t until late 2020 that we finally found the perfect place to donate those funds. Bra Couture KC and the mission to help local cancer patients in Kansas City was exactly what we had been looking for in a charitable organization. Lori and I couldn’t be more honored to put those funds in the hands of Bra Couture KC to distribute. It has been almost 10 years since cancer became a part of my life. I can never repay those who surrounded me with love and support during my treatment and long after. And I will be eternally grateful for the journey that has taught me how to LIVE EACH DAY.

Jo Nelson

1987 newly graduated RN and “self-imposed expert “in all things healthy – I found the first lump in my breast. Shattered my self-image of perfection.

It was a benign cyst. I got involved with the Lee’s Summit Hospital auxiliary and became the auxiliaries “poster child” for the first mammography machine! As a health educator for the hospital, I taught thousands of women the importance of self breast exams, physician exams, and mammography. I also served on the American Cancer Society – Lee Summit board of directors; again breast cancer “expert”. Jump ahead 25 years, 25 mammograms, and even more breast sonograms to the spring of 2014. I figured this was just another cyst that I found. So I waited…About two months! It was still there, so I called my doctor. I wasn’t in a hurry since my mammo in December was normal. Two weeks past before I saw Dr. Hailey. She sent me immediately for a sonogram, even though we decided it was probably just another cyst! The radiologist came in the exam room, which is never a good sign! He wanted a biopsy to be sure. I got the biopsy on Friday as a nurse and a “frequent flyer” of the Lee’s Summit Hospital radiology department, I knew what the diagnosis was going to be. Monday, July 21, 2014, 3 PM, the phone call from Dr. Haley arrived. I had invasive ductal carcinoma…Breast cancer.

Why me? No, why NOT me? I had the experience, the education, the resources of a fantastic medical team, a super supportive family, and a huge God! Our team motto: Pray. Hope. Believe. Fight. And we did! 14 chemo therapy treatments, 4 surgeries, 3 surgeons, 3 hospital stays and numerous doctor with the best oncologist on the planet visits later, at age 57, I am a wife, mother of two grown daughters, a daughter in law, a mother in law, and a grandmother to two precious little men…I am 5 years a fighter!

Jason Knipp

Male breast cancer? That’s a thing? Well yes, it is, and men with breast cancer represent just 1 percent of all breast cancers. Scary.

In late May 2019, I can home from work one evening and my wife and son noticed I had some blood spots on my white undershirt and asked what I had done to myself. Huh? I looked at it and just shrugged it off, thinking I likely brushed up against something or somehow cut myself and didn’t know it. But around my breast nipple? No pain either. Strange. A couple days later it happened again and it was more substantial. Something was not right.

After polite pressure from my wife, thankfully, I finally called my doctor. The first few weeks of June was a whirlwind. I had a mammogram (that really hurts men by the way), ultrasound, breast MRI, biopsy, genetic testing, and blood work completed, and on June 13th, 2019, it was confirmed that I had Stage 1 male breast cancer.

I found out I carried the BRCA 1 gene mutation as well. Passed down through family. Lucky me. On July 15th, I had a left-breast mastectomy. My surgeon, Dr. Mindi Beahm, did a fantastic job. Fortunately, it was not metastatic. I did not need radiation or chemotherapy and my wonderful Oncologist, Dr. Aruna Rokkam, only needed to prescribe Tamoxifen for the next 5+ years.

I was one of the lucky ones to catch it early. For a lot of men, the disease tends to be diagnosed in more advanced stages. Life changes for anyone with cancer (and those close to you). The entire cancer process is overwhelming and having male breast cancer meant that there was going to be even more attention. I was scared about what it meant to have male breast cancer because of the limited cases of men out there, and was worried about how doctors would approach male breast cancer versus female breast cancer. The research on men is simply not there.

I certainly went through a huge range of emotions just like everyone else does when faced with this disease. I stayed positive. I prayed. My wife, son, and family stayed positive and were very supportive. Friends and colleagues have been very supportive. I am very grateful for those in my life. Cancer is certainly a wake-up call to appreciate life and not waste time.

There are things to do and places to see. It has impacted the way I think by living more in the present, and has further emboldened my faith in God. I became involved with the Male Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) and it has been a tremendous source of emotional and education support along with a commitment of spreading awareness that men have breasts too! But I’m not the only one beating cancer. My wife is a lung cancer survivor of 12 years. Her path to recovery was far more difficult than mine. This family battles cancer. I’d say cancer should be afraid of us now!

Chandler Rowley

My story begins in August of 2008 when my mother, Kiers Rowley, was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. With her diagnosis, she was given three months and was told: “she wouldn’t see snow hit the ground.”

But with God’s grace and healing hands, my mother exceeded the three months given to her and continued to fight for the next ten years without a break.

From that moment on, our lives were forever changed. Mom was born to Dennis and Jan Downing, grandpa and grandma, and was the oldest of three sisters. I too am the oldest of three siblings, so you could say I had the best role model when it came to be a loving and compassionate sibling. By mom’s side were her two beautiful and outrageously strong sisters, Mecah and Shea, who I get the honor of calling my aunts and best friends. Mom went to Messiah Lutheran School, Truman High school, and went on to further her education by studying music at Simpson College, and then earned her master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory. On June 5th, 1993, mom married Steve Rowley, a.k.a dad, and well you know…that’s how I got here, along with my two younger siblings Conrad and Ella.

My siblings and I had the honor of watching what a Godly, faithful, and equally yoked marriage consists of through the love of our parents. Next to her children, her faith and testimony is her greatest legacy. As a young adult, mom invested in the lives of hundreds of youth through music and theater.

Throughout her cancer journey, she witnessed to countless people and was a spiritual warrior on the front lines of furthering His kingdom of believers. Her powerful ripple effect of defeating the enemy and glorifying God through all situations has been inspiring to myself and countless lives around the world. Hearts have been changed by her fervent love for her God and her bold ability to use Him through every chapter in her book of life, whether it was a storm or a rainbow.

She always stayed true to the beautiful novel she called life, each page turning with His fingerprints all over the paper and her declaring God’s presence and meaning in her life. Life doesn’t always promise rainbows, but he does promise a rainbow after the storm. On May 10th of 2018, mom passed away peacefully after her long and courageous battle to cancer. In my heart, I know mom is now composing the most beautiful music with the choir of angels next to her Creator.

She is living out what she spent her life sharing with others, the hope of eternal life. I can confidently say my mother’s tenacious cancer journey gave the gift of HOPE to families, friends, hospital communities, oncologists, and cancer patients. As proof, I am here to carry on her legacy, provide HOPE to the hopeless, and walk for those who’ve lost their battles to this awful disease. My momma clung to the saying “LOVE YOUR PEOPLE AND CLING TO JESUS”, and it is the very reason I wake up and choose love and joy, every single day. This life is not meant to be lived alone, and we certainly cannot live life abundantly without Jesus. I thank my momma every day for the legacy she left to live on. 

Ashley Ryan

On January 15th, 2020 I found my lump. I had just returned from a two-week vacation with my family to Grand Cayman. I knew something wasn’t right because I had been in a swimsuit every day for the last two weeks all day every day, and I hadn’t noticed a thing. I called my OB the next day explaining the lump I had found.

My appointment was over a week away, so I called Dr. Quinn (my plastic surgeon who did my breast augmentation a year prior), and he was able to see me sooner. He thought it was a benign fibroadenoma, but he wanted me to get imaging to verify. I had a mammogram and ultrasound a couple days later (now a week after I found the lump), and the imaging showed two masses. The radiologist believed they were benign, but thought I should have a biopsy to confirm. I told her I had an appointment scheduled at KU in a couple days, and I would call to schedule a biopsy if they didn’t proceed with the biopsy at KU.

A few days later I met with the PA and another radiologist for a second ultrasound at KU. The radiologist came in and told me he thought the masses were benign, and to come back in six months for a follow up and another ultrasound. I didn’t feel right waiting 6 months. I needed confirmation the lump was nothing to be concerned about. I wanted to have the biopsy just to be sure, and to put my anxiety to rest. I happened to run into the PA in the hallway as I was walking out with my brother, and she could tell I was upset. I told her I wanted to proceed with the biopsy. She scheduled the biopsy for a few days later (two weeks after I found the lump).

The biopsy was a quick and painless procedure. They told me I would receive the results the following week. The next morning about 11 am I was at the office, and I saw KU was calling. My heart sunk. Before I could respond the PA proceeded by stating, “Do you have a minute? The biopsy results came back, and it was cancerous. You have invasive ductal carcinoma.” I don’t remember much from that phone call, but I won’t ever forget it. I will never forget that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30 years old… five days before my 31st birthday.

I won’t ever forget walking quickly from my desk and trying to find an office to take a phone call that I knew was not good news. I won’t ever forget walking back to my desk crying and no one in the office saying anything as I packed up everything and walked out because they knew something wrong. I won’t ever forget having to FaceTime my parents telling them I had cancer while they were in Grand Cayman. I won’t ever forget driving home and not knowing what to do next after being told I had cancer. I won’t ever forget that day.

Thankfully, I trusted my intuition and I caught the tumor early. I was diagnosed with early stage 2. The tumor had not metastasized, spread to my cells, or my lymph nodes. The MRI confirmed it was in fact just one tumor measuring 3.1 cm. I cannot imagine where I would have been six months later if I would have waited to follow up. Over the next five months, I went through IVF, eight chemo treatments, scans, and way too many shots in my stomach to count.

My first chemo treatment was on March 2nd, and as most people know just a couple weeks later COVID hit. During my second treatment I was only allowed one visitor, and then for my remaining treatments I was not allowed any visitors. This was especially difficult because I was cold capping. My dad got the nickname the “cold cap king” and I was no longer able to bring him with me to my treatments to help me cold cap in order to preserve my hair. However, he taught me how to put the caps on my head using a wall and all my strength (even being hooked up to an IV getting chemo) and put the caps on.

Although I despised COVID at the time because I had to do all my treatments and doctor’s appointments alone, it was also a blessing in disguise. I was able to work from home and keep healthy while my immune system was compromised. I did not have to worry about getting up and going to the office each day, or being around friends and family when I did not feel or look my best. And the best thing – I was able to spend most of my summer at the Lake of the Ozarks at our lake house with my family, some of our best friends, and my goddaughter.

I had the best support system to get me through some of my hardest days. In August I underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Although it was not an easy decision as a single 31-year-old, I wanted to reduce my chances of a reoccurrence in the future. I received the best news when my surgeon, Dr. McCroskey, told me there was no evidence of cancer in any of the surrounding tissue or lymph nodes. I could finally say I was cancer free!

The journey continued over the next several months with weekly appointments to Dr. Quinn’s for fills, and follow up appointments with my oncologist, Dr. Nye. I finally ended my treatment and surgery journey when I had my reconstruction in November 2020. My battle with breast cancer taught me several things. It taught me that cancer does not discriminate – it does not matter how old you are or what stage of life you are in – it will hit you like a tornado. Cancer puts everything into perspective. The little things you thought were important don’t matter anymore, and you make time for and put more effort into the things that truly matter. Although cliché, it taught me to live each day to the fullest because life is too short. Most importantly though, it taught me that you have to be your own advocate and trust your intuition.

Suzanne Skinner

I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer on November 8, 2018, just shy of my 54th birthday. My markers were stage 1B and grade 3 with a KI67 score of 89%. From that moment on it was a whirlwind of tests, doctor's appointments, and fear.

I had a clear mammogram only three and a half months before. At the end of September, I had a pain under my left breast. After three weeks of pain, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. She saw how painful it was during my exam and although she didn’t feel a lump, she sent me for an ultrasound for peace of mind. A small 1 cm tumor was found.

The following week, at the beginning of November, I had a biopsy done and then four days later received the dreaded call. I met with my oncologist and began chemo on December 5th. I had four AC and four dose dense taxol infusions over a 16 week period. By the time I started chemo, the original pain that prompted me to go to the doctor had subsided. It was most likely a pulled muscle. I am a firm believer in listening to our bodies! Had I not had the exam, my outcome would have been much different. I completed chemo on March 13th and had my double mastectomy with expanders on April 17th.

My pathology report came back with amazing news: there was no lymph node involvement and I had a complete pathologic response to the chemo. I had ZERO cancer left. My exchange surgery was at the end of August. I still have some swelling and a little bruising, but I’m very pleased to be done with this chapter. When people ask me about my cancer journey, I try to explain why I feel it wasn’t just my journey, but also a journey for my family and friends.

I had and still have an enormous support system. My husband of 31 years, John, was my rock and by my side every single step of the way. His only ask of me was to get better (and let the dog out once a day ~ lol). We have built an amazing family and everyone lent a hand during our journey. We have three children; Zach (28), Abby (27) and Jake (24). Zach is an attorney here in KC and married to his high school sweetheart, Megan, who is a 5th grade teacher at Westridge Elementary in Raytown. They are expecting their first child next April. Our daughter Abby is a NICU nurse at Children’s Mercy and married to her high school sweetheart Michael, who is a financial advisor with Edward Jones. They are having our first grand daughter on October 1st (if she doesn’t make her grand debut earlier). Our youngest son Jake has lived in Washington, D.C. for almost a year and a half. He is the assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Irregular Warfare at The Pentagon. I get to see him about once a month. His high school sweetheart, Kristin, still lives here in KC and works at the Federal Reserve Bank downtown. We are looking forward to making her an official Skinner in the next few years.

They all had to watch me (most of the time feeling helpless) struggle with my port access during infusions, pass out at appointments, suffer from the side effects and withdraw from everything social that I loved to do. I look forward to beginning my next chapter as a Mimi. Having such a close knit family has helped me survive the past 10 months. I never felt alone or defeated. They were and still are my biggest cheerleaders. And for that I am so grateful!

Michelle Steger

I kid you not, I discovered my cancer while waiting to meet Donald Duck at Disney World. While living in Tampa, I took my daughters (ages 3 and 8 at the time) for a day trip to Disney and I remember being really annoyed with my bra while waiting in line. I felt a lot of pain in my left breast. When I went to put on my bra the next day, I noticed a sizable lump very close to my skin.

Hello! My name is Michelle Steger. I am the mother to three awesome kids; Jackson, 15; Grace, 12 and Olivia, 8 and have been married to my wonderful husband Jason for over 20 years. As an Army spouse, I’ve lived a life of moving and exploring different parts of the country for nearly 21 years. My husband will retire in early Fall and we will thankfully stay put in Lansing, KS. I kid you not, I discovered my cancer while waiting to meet Donald Duck at Disney World. While living in Tampa, I took my daughters (ages 3 and 8 at the time) for a day trip to Disney and I remember being really annoyed with my bra while waiting in line. I felt a lot of pain in my left breast. When I went to put on my bra the next day, I noticed a sizable lump very close to my skin. I convinced myself it was a simple cyst, but would be sure to see my primary doctor as soon as possible. I was 39 years old at the time and experienced my first mammogram, followed by multiple sonograms, an MRI, a biopsy, and an MRIguided biopsy. I was informed only minutes before my first biopsy that I most definitely had breast cancer and I would require a mastectomy (try laying still for a biopsy after that bomb). I opted for a bilateral mastectomy and learned that I was stage 2 following that surgery. The good news was that I was cancer-free following the surgery. The bad news was, due to my age, I needed to follow up the surgery with eight rounds of chemo and 30 sessions of radiation. I was thankful to be treated at one of the top cancer centers: Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. I was even more thankful to receive DIEP Flap breast reconstruction from Dr. Butterworth at KU Health System shortly after moving back to Kansas City. From the start, Jason and I felt there was a reason for my diagnosis. We felt it would lead us to something bigger than ourselves. Shortly after radiation, I found that reason. Dragon Boating. I was introduced to the Pink Dragon Ladies, a dragon boat team for cancer survivors in Tampa Bay. The sport changed my life and the women I met quickly became my sisters. I went on to compete in the IBCPC Dragon Boat Festival in Florence, Italy, the following summer (2018). Bittersweetly, the Army had different plans for us and shipped us back to Kansas City only eight months after joining the team. I knew in my heart that cancer survivors in Kansas City needed to experience the same thing I had in Tampa. In April of 2019, I started the KC Pink Warriors Dragon Boat Team. The team was enthusiastically-received by survivors and grew quickly. Within one year, we grew to 35+ women, became a 501(c)3, raced in four different states, purchased our own 40’ long dragon boat and established a board of directors. We also registered to compete at the next IBCPC Festival in New Zealand in 2023. We all know how devastating a cancer diagnosis is and how grueling the treatments can be. I am proud to have turned that negative experience into a happy result for myself, my family and Kansas City survivors. Jason and I have followed through with our mission of creating something bigger than ourselves and are happy to add Bra Couture KC to the list of happy results!

Patricia Stouffer

My name is Patricia Stouffer and I am 56 years old. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in my right breast; Double negative, HER-2 positive (the strand of cancer that was living in my body).

Early in life I was told that I had Fibrocystic breasts, also known as “Lumpy breasts.” I would continue to get several lumps throughout my life and had several biopsies because of it. Turns out that none of the lumps I had removed were Cancerous. So, in June of 2017 I felt another lump, but was not alarmed. I was on the 6-month plan, which consisted of me having a mammogram and ultrasound of my breasts every 6 months. The reason I would have 2 tests each time was due to my very dense breasts. The mammogram alone couldn’t see thru the dense breast tissue that all my previous biopsies had caused. Since I had just went for my 6-month tests in March, I figured that when I felt a lump in June, it wasn’t a big deal and I could wait until my September 6-month screenings. Well that little sucker was the “BIG C.” On Sept 1, 2017, I had my scheduled mammogram which showed nothing and to follow was my ultra sound. Boom! There is was, an aggressive mass! I was diagnosed as a stage 2B. From March-September, it appeared to be growing fast. I opted to have both of my breasts removed and 4 lymph nodes removed. I then named myself “Flattipattikakes.” I even had shirts and wine glasses made with my new name on it. I felt a weight being lifted off my mind because for years I felt that one day one of my lumps would be Cancerous. I had been living in fear. Well, true enough, that’s what Satin would have wanted for me, but I’m saved by the blood, so God carried me thru all of that! Once I was diagnosed I had no tears. He dried them up inside of me before I could even shed one. He held me high above sadness because for the fight I needed to be strong and strong I was. I also had a very strong support group throughout all of this but more than anything I had my faith. God put all the right people in place to help me along the way. I never felt alone during my battle. There were some lonely days but I learned that you can be alone but not lonely. I couldn’t be around a lot of people because my chemo was so aggressive and when you have aggressive chemo, your immune system has trouble fighting off germs. God used my alone time to bond with me. I also had prayers and love all around from my family and friends. Six months later, I had completed all my chemo treatments and was back to work. It took a while to get my strength back and to get “Me” back. It has now been 2 years since my diagnosis and I am truly blessed to have experienced this and to have the opportunity to share my battle. Hopefully my story will help someone else’s battle. “Flattipattikakes,” is Cancer free!

Heather Dickman

I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer right after Thanksgiving 2018. I had gone for my very first mammogram at age 45 because I had Addison when I was 39 and Asher when I was 41 and breastfed them both for a little over a year.

I had not noticed the fairly large lump on my left breast but the team at St. Luke’s was excellent and compassionate as they did the mammogram, then an ultrasound and finally a biopsy. I was grateful that the doctor told me right then she was sure it was cancer rather than waiting.

My children are the most important thing in my life. Addison was six and Asher was three when I was diagnosed. At the request of many friends, I had a second opinion at KU where I chose to proceed with treatment. Dr. Anne O’Dea has been a blessing. My treatment plan was left breast mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy followed by chemotherapy and oral hormone blocking therapy.

The support I received from my friends and family was absolutely amazing. They brought meals 4-5 times a week for 4 months. My wonderful girlfriends brought cards, flowers, wine, blankets and gifts and came to visit non-stop. They attended doctors appointments, chemo sessions and reconstruction surgeries in New Orleans. The love I received was an absolute blessing.

I chose to have Diep Flap Reconstruction instead of an implant. This procedure was performed at The Center for Breast Reconstruction in New Orleans by Dr. Wise. The Center is a wonderful place for treatment and healing.

I have been with my company, The Dixie Group, for 17 years. They were very supportive through this journey and they insisted that I take time to heal. My children and I enjoy the Lake of Ozarks, spending time outdoors and reading books. I am happy to be near the end of my cancer journey and hope that I can help others as I was so fortunate to receive love and support throughout this past year.

 

An Update on Breast Implant Technology

By Dr. Paul J. Leahy, MD, FACS, Monarch Plastic Surgery | April 2020

Rebuilding a woman’s God-given breast using human-made instruments and materials remains one of the biggest challenges that a plastic surgeon deals with. The naturally beautiful shapes, contours, and proportions are often dramatically altered by the necessary treatments, particularly mastectomy and radiation. Though the human breast never defines who a woman is, it still is a meaningful part of feeling whole. The loss of breast symmetry can negatively affect the way that clothing fits, cause discomfort and skin irritation, and it impacts a person’s self-esteem – not to mention that it is a constant reminder of the breast disease they are fighting.

Biomedical engineers are constantly working with plastic surgeons to improve breast implant technology. We have come a long way since the first implants were placed in the early 1960s. Much of the public still assumes that all silicone implants are “bad” and that they leak and cause problems. This is not the case. The U.S.F.D.A. studied silicone gel implants for about 15 years in great detail and found no meaningful link between a breast implant and any medical disease. In the fall of 2006, silicone implants were re-released (with many design updates) for both cosmetic and reconstructive uses.

Silicone-filled breast implants are still the more commonly used devices for breast reconstruction, although there are several very good saline-filled implant options available too. We are always in search of the perfect implant for our patients.

Fighting Lymphedema Through Surveillance and Early Intervention 

By Jamie Wagner, DO
October 31, 2019

Many breast cancer patients have a lifelong risk of developing lymphedema, which is a buildup of fluid in soft body tissues that causes painful swelling.

Lymphedema occurs when lymph nodes are surgically removed, much like intersections being closed during construction. When this happens, fluid can’t move through the body and out because lymph system pathways are gone. If alternate routes can’t be found, then fluid backs up and the arm begins to swell. Patients who have had breast surgery, lymph node removal, or radiation are at highest risk for lymphedema, which can cause an arm to swell up to 4 times its normal size.