Breast Cancer Survivor
- A self-exam led Stacey to her doctor
- Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 at age 41
- Treated on a chemotherapy clinical trial followed by surgery and radiation therapy
- In remission ever since
Stacey Fischer was one day shy of her 41st birthday when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
“I found the lump on a self-exam,” Stacey says. “It was about the size of a garbanzo bean and hard to the touch.
“I was freaked out,” Stacey says. “But I didn’t do anything about it right away. And then I got shingles all over my face. It must have been a stress response.”
She knew she couldn’t wait any longer. She needed to meet with her doctor, who then referred Stacey to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) for a mammogram, “which was daunting, but I’m really glad I went there,” Stacey says. “But nothing showed up.”
Stacey had an ultrasound which found the lump that she had felt.
Different imaging sees things in different ways. “A breast MRI revealed that the tumor was eating into the muscle in the chest wall, behind the breast… a sign of an advanced tumor,” says V.K. Gadi, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist at SCCA who specializes in caring for women with breast cancer.
Then Stacey had a biopsy. Her father happened to be visiting at the time, which was a good distraction while she waited to hear the results of her tests. “But it was hard not to think about it and I got angry at my partner, Scott, for telling me not to worry about something until there was something to worry about.”
Stacey received the news that she had invasive ductal carcinoma or IDC. About 80 percent of invasive breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas, also called infiltrating ductal carcinomas. IDC begins in a duct in the breast and breaks through into the surrounding fatty tissue of the breast. From there, IDC can metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
Stacey's SCCA healthcare team consisted of Kristine E. Calhoun, MD, breast oncology surgeon; Janice N. Kim, MD, radiation oncologist; and Dr. Gadi, medical oncologist, who Stacey describes as "a Spock and Kirk combo."
Treatment & clinical trials
“I saw a statistic once that only three percent of adults participate in clinical trials,” Stacey says. Dr. Gadi presented a trial option to her for treatment: taking 12 weeks of Sutent, an oral medication approved by the Food & Drug Administration for treating two other types of cancer that essentially starves the tumor, and Taxol, an intravenous medication that she received once a week.
After that regimen, she had 15 weeks of A&C (Adriamycin and Cytoxan). “Scott came with me to infusions for every treatment,” Stacey says, “as would my family and friends. I would go have a nice meal beforehand and do yoga to try to make it a good day. After treatment, Scott would drive me home.”
“The treatment worked fantastically!” Stacey says. Her tumor reduced in size by 52 percent in five weeks. By the time she finished the chemotherapy portion of her treatment, her tumor had reduced in size by 92 percent!
Ecstatic about the success of the treatment, Stacey admits it still took a toll on her body. While she didn’t suffer from nausea, her lower gastrointestinal tract suffered greatly and Stacey found herself a prisoner in her own home, never daring to be too far from a bathroom for very long.
“I took a week off when the neuropathy in my fingers became too painful,” Stacey says.
Following the chemotherapy, Stacey was ready for surgery, and Dr. Calhoun went in to remove the remaining tumor, leaving only scar tissue. No muscle tissue had to be removed. One month after her surgery, Stacey began her six-week daily radiation treatment.
After her cancer was declared gone, Stacey returned to SCCA every three months to follow-up with Dr. Gadi. And then those appointments moved to every six months. Now, she sees Dr. Gadi once a year.
Life after cancer
Stacey wears a special ring on her finger: a large circle made up of radiant diamonds. It’s her 'Wonder Woman' ring for “kicking cancer’s ass,” she says. “Whenever I’m worried, like when my old family friend died after a recurrence of breast cancer which was fast and mean and tough to face, I go to my ring. It’s like a worry bead.”
Stacey found meditation to be especially helpful during her course with breast cancer. “I read a book called How to Meditate,” she says. “It was really simple and really easy to read. And it really helped me.”
For fun these days, Stacey is back to work in her graphic design business and designs greeting cards in her spare time. She often accompanies her partner on his adventures with dog sled racing, too.<< PREVIOUS | NEXT >>