IN November 2019, Deborah McStallworth noticed a knot the size of a golf ball while doing a self-breast exam. She had no family history of breast cancer, and at age 40, considered herself too young for a breast cancer diagnosis.
But, she would soon learn “breast cancer can strike early and strike with a vengeance”.
McStallworth took the concern to her family doctor, who referred her to a general surgeon at Integris Bass Baptist Health Center in Oklahoma in the United States, who ordered a CT, PET Scan and did a biopsy.
The diagnosis revealed that breast cancer can develop in women well before their 40th birthday.“I was diagnosed with stage four invasive carcinoma – breast cancer, ” McStallworth said.
She soon was started on chemotherapy. And with the first treatment, she began to feel the effects – physical and emotional of chemotherapy.
“It really hit me hard when I had my first chemo treatment and my hair fell out, ” she said. “That’s when it became real.”
McStallworth said she had to go through the stages of grief, including denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.
Her sister, Crisi Crabbs, said it’s hard for family members to see a loved one going through that struggle.
“It’s heartbreaking, to say the least, to see her like this, ” Crabbs said. “I hate seeing her go through this. She’s so young.”
McStallworth had a message for all women: “Make sure you get your mammogram done.”
“The growth rate on some breast cancers is so great, ” she said. “It can just take over your body.”
In spite of the late, stage four, diagnosis, McStallworth said the chemotherapy “is definitely working, ” and her tumors are now half their original size at diagnosis.
As the tumors shrink, her faith and determination to beat the cancer grow.
“I am not an overly religious person, but this has brought me closer to God, ” she said.
As she finishes this round of chemo, McStallworth leans on her two sisters for support, Crisi and Dana Kuhlman. “They’ve been great, ” she said.
While McStallworth soon will begin the next phase of her treatment, radiation, Rhonda Pinkston, 60, just finished her radiation treatment.
Pinkston was “dragging her feet when it came time for her annual mammogram”.
She had completed her annual mammograms for 20 years, and each year additional tests were ordered. She was accustomed to “suspicious” spots showing up, but “they never amounted to anything.”
Because she had no family history of breast cancer, Pinkston said she “wasn’t the least bit concerned about the possibility of a cancer diagnosis.”
But, eventually she gave in to the advice of her doctor, and had a mammogram. As usual, the mammogram detected a spot. But, this time, it was more than an annoyance.
Pinkston was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2019.
“It’s almost unimaginable that a spot, the size of an M&M, can wreak such havoc on a body, ” Pinkston said. The spot turned out to be invasive ductal carcinoma, the same as McStallworth’s, and it already had infiltrated the breast tissue wall. Her oncologist told her the cancer treatment would be very aggressive, and to “be prepared for some tough roads ahead.”
“My cancer wasn’t caused by hormones and it wasn’t genetic either, ” Pinkston said. “It was just luck of the draw that I got it.”
Pinkston’s cancer is referred to as triple negative. These type of cancers do not respond to hormonal therapy cancer treatments.
Other options for treatment include radiation, and a recently-installed advanced radiotherapy system.
Pinkston came for her radiation treatment five times a week for five weeks. Her treatments lasted 10 minutes from start to finish.
“Driving to and from the hospital was the hardest part of my radiation treatment, ” she joked.
Pinkston’s treatments, including three surgeries, were completed on schedule, in spite of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I just wanted to get it done, ” Pinkston said.
Pinkston drew strength through the ordeal from her faith. The diagnosis itself also forced her to be strong, Pinkston said.
“It definitely makes you stronger, ” Pinkston said, “because, well, you have to be. It’s definitely no fun, and treatment feels like torture at times, but it doesn’t help to worry too much.”
Now that Pinkston has finished her treatments, her hair, lashes and eyebrows are coming back, and her body is starting to get back to normal. Now her focus is on continuing to heal, and protecting herself from Covid-19.
Like McStallworth, she had a simple but firm message for other women: “Do not put off your mammogram.” —The Enid News & Eagle/Tribune News Service.
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