My story:  Samantha Stephenson

I was sitting on a couch during a birthday party for my younger sister when I first noticed the lump. It didn’t feel right so I made an appointment with my gynecologist. Because I always made sure to go for annual check-ups, I wasn’t very concerned. I’m 29 years old and many women my age develop cysts; so I assumed this lump was just that, a cyst.

After an initial ultrasound was unclear, I decided to see a general surgeon for a second opinion, and he recommended that I have the lump removed. After weighing the options for myself, I agreed.

That day at work, I received a call from the surgeon asking me to call him and saying I should have him paged if he wasn’t available. The message alarmed me and I knew something wasn’t right. Over the phone, he told me that the lump he’d removed was malignant. I had to clarify what he meant: Was it cancer? When he said the words, “I’m so sorry,” I knew it was cancer. The diagnosis was a huge shock to me, my family and even the doctor.

I began treatment with an oncologist near my home in Racine, Wisconsin. Soon after my diagnosis, I also got married. My husband, Kyle, after hearing this news asked me to marry him. We planned our wedding in about a month so I wouldn’t have a port in our wedding photos.

In August, just a few weeks after our ceremony, I went to Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center for an initial consultation. I had started chemotherapy treatment before our wedding, but I felt so good at CTCA® and decided to switch hospitals in December 2014.

A Different Care

After completing 16 rounds of chemotherapy, I had surgery to remove lymph nodes and tumor margins. Then, my oncologist at CTCA, Dr. Laura Farrington, recommended I receive Calypso radiation therapy.

When I came to CTCA, I noticed the care was very different. Having all services in the same building means that pursuing treatment is far less draining than going here and there for different tests. I think the level of comfort here, from all services being together and other aspects, leaves patients more vibrant and energized. And at CTCA, people are friendly and willing to share their experiences with you. 

The side effects have been strong sometimes, but I have received a lot of help with managing problems. The radiation can cause fatigue and also skin sensitivity. I started physical therapy before radiation at the recommendation of my Care Team. Working in a dentist’s office, I know the importance of preventive care, so the suggestions from my Care Team made sense to me. As a result, I was able to gain movement back relatively fast. Within the first day, I could raise my hand above my head, a movement that can give people trouble during treatment. I was also given lotion to help with skin sensitivity, which helped as a preventive measure.

I had a tingling sensation in my arm that was addressed with physical therapy. My ovaries were suppressed during treatment, which generated some menopause-like symptoms. I have been working with a naturopath and nutritionist to keep my body in balance as much as possible.

Support from Others

I have benefited greatly not only from the excellent care at CTCA but also from the support and love I’ve received from other people. I have been grateful for the spiritual support available at CTCA, and have enjoyed many conversations with Reverend McCray, and also by the community in our regular church. And my husband has been with me every step of the way.

Cancer has taught me the different languages of love; that each person “speaks” their love differently. It was hard to let people help me at first, but I realized how important it was to them, and also to me. Letting go and allowing others to help was a learning experience for me. Now I realize that I couldn’t have done this without the people I love. Today I am feeling better.

It’s weird to say that cancer has been a gift, but in some ways it has been. It has enabled me to understand so much more about life, about myself, and about the people I love. And now I can offer help to others making the same journey. How else would I know to tell people to plug your nose and have a candy when your port is being flushed? That advice is invaluable!