By the end of December 2015, after six rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, including a double mastectomy, a lengthy reconstructive surgery and a total hysterectomy, Stacy Reed, 41-year-old mother of two, was cancer-free and doing great by all counts. Then just 14 days into January of this year, she found out she had stage III pancreatic cancer.
The diagnosis was quite a blow, but Reed saw it from a different perspective.
"Having breast cancer saved my life."
Her story starts long before her March 2014 diagnosis. Her grandmother was diagnosed in the 1950s with breast cancer at age 36, before succumbing to the disease at 40. Then Reed's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, making it highly likely that this could be a hereditary condition. So Reed and her sister began getting routine mammograms at the age of 35.
Her mother's breast surgeon advised Reed's mom to get tested for BRCA, an inherited gene mutation that indicates a likelihood of some form of cancer, particularly breast or ovarian. She tested positive for the BRCA2 gene and as expected, so did both her daughters.
"While the majority of cancer happens by chance, up to 15 percent of people with breast cancer have an inherited cause. It is important to know which individuals have an inherited cancer risk so that they can take steps for early detection or preventative measures to reduce the risk of cancer and save lives," said Dr. W. Lee Bourland Jr., breast surgeon, Texas Breast Specialists-Presbyterian Dallas, one of the key doctors on Reed's medical team.
Prevention was exactly the path Reed started out on. She began having tests at six-month intervals, alternating between mammograms and breast MRIs. Her August 2013 mammogram was clear, so in February 2014, just before her scheduled MRI, she told her husband she was ready to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy to get ahead of the disease and put this chapter behind her.
The surgery was already on the schedule, but Bourland wanted to do the MRI just to make sure there wasn't anything new since the mammogram.
"He calls me a couple days later and said he found something on my MRI. I had to come back in for a biopsy. It was breast cancer," she said. "Just six months prior I had a mammogram and nothing was detected. By the time they found this on the MRI, it was tiny, about the size of a pencil eraser. In the blink of an eye I went from being a proactive, preventive patient to reduce my chances of having cancer to being another statistic."
Yet as she stated, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it put her on a regular four-month testing schedule with her oncologist, Dr. Kristi McIntyre, medical oncologist and hematologist, Texas Oncology-Presbyterian Cancer Center Dallas.
"Had I done everything preventively like I had planned, then I wouldn't be followed by an oncologist, I wouldn't be having regular lab work drawn and the pancreatic cancer might have gone undetected."
Between February and August, she had four months of chemo and 28 rounds of radiation before having the Whipple procedure to remove the tumor on her pancreas just over two weeks ago.
"So once again I'm cancer-free and in remission. I fought it, I beat it and I've got a lot of life left to live," she said. "I just had to keep the faith and tell myself that it was all going to be good, no matter what. I had to cling to a higher power to know that there is hope."
Read the story at The Dallas Morning News.