texas oncology more breakthroughs. more victories
Request an Appointment

Battling Breast Cancer, Becoming a SurviveHER

Lyndsay Levingston was a successful journalist with a thriving career in New York City when she discovered she had breast cancer. She now faced the biggest story of her life: the battleground in her own body. Lyndsay credits Dr. Jamie Terry, M.D., MHCE, FACS, a breast cancer surgeon at Texas Breast Specialists-Houston Memorial City, as the ‘captain of her breast cancer survivorship.’ Cancer free since 2020, Lyndsay shares how Dr. Terry and the care team at Texas Oncology – along with faith, family, and a spirit of determination – helped her not only beat breast cancer… but become a SurviveHer.

Transcript

Voiceover: How many times in life are we forced to take a leap of faith?

Lyndsay Levingston: God knows the plans he has for us, and that's to give us hope for a future.

Ted Canova: Hi and welcome to Right Here, a podcast from Texas Oncology, who knows that family and friends are a huge part of cancer treatment, so being right here makes a difference. For expert cancer care, go to Texas Oncology.com. I’m Ted Canova.

Ted Canova: For one woman, faith was tested when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Lyndsay Levingston: I'm Lyndsay Livingston and I live in Houston, Texas. I'm a proud breast cancer survivor.

Ted Canova: Yes, Lyndsay's a survivor. She grew up in Houston, and her career was on a fast track. As a journalist, Lyndsay reported on other people's lives and other people's stories.

(Cut to: 20 montage of Lindsay's TV airchecks)

Lyndsay Levingston: …A major victory for the democratic party for the first time in eight years…people gathered here for an hour to send a strong message to the Electoral College as you mentioned…Hi Annika and Jeanine, well there's a lot of excitement buzzing here around the 86-

(Cut back to Ted Canova voiceover)

Ted track- Her days were long…

Lyndsay Levingston: Fell in love with it.

Ted Canova: …working double shifts…

Lyndsay Levingston: Those moments and days and nights and mornings, early mornings, weekends, it's when I really learned the rigors and how to survive in a newsroom.

Ted Canova: …and learning her craft.

Lyndsay Levingston: Well, let me tell you how I got there. I took a leap of faith.

Ted Canova: That faith led her to the media capital of the world.

Lyndsay Levingston: I stepped out on faith and moved to New York with two weeks' worth of clothes. No job, no plan, no place to stay and made it work.

Ted Canova: Lyndsay made it work because of her determination…a trait she called upon when she needed it most.

Lyndsay Levingston: I'll never forget it. I was taking a shower one day, summer of 2019, and during a self-exam felt a lump in my right breast and I knew that it was not normal and that prompted me to schedule my well-woman exam.

Ted Canova: She hopped on a train, then a subway, and walked the rest of the way to her doctor's appointment.

Lyndsay Levingston: So at 37, I'm learning that I'm going to have my first mammogram, plus a 3D mammogram, plus a breast ultrasound, and a biopsy. And the biopsy determined that that lump was cancerous.

Ted Canova: Lyndsay's job required her to take diligent notes. But now, she replaced her reporter's notebook with her personal journal, which she found, opened, and read.

Lyndsay Levingston: I reached out to a sorority sister who had completed her journey and she was a patient of Dr. Terry, so she gave me a lot of information, and I just started scribbling.

Ted Canova: Scribbling, a form of writing that is out of control.

Lyndsay Levingston: I was operating on autopilot. It was just a blur, all the exams, all the tests. And I'll never forget the phone call I received from the radiologist: "I'm sorry, Lyndsay, but it's breast cancer."

Ted Canova: For a woman whose job it was to cover tragedy with grace, the most important story was now happening inside her body. During the next doctor's appointment, Lyndsay skyped her mom into the call. Afterwards, she called her back.

Lyndsay Levingston: Mom said, "Let's get you on a one-way home. I know a dynamic breast surgeon, and we'll go from there." It just so happens that my breast surgeon is a family friend, and mom saw her two weeks prior to my diagnosis, this is just how God works. And she said, "I want you to get on a one-way, let's meet with Dr. Terry and let's see what she has to say."

Dr. Jamie Terry: I'm Dr. Jamie Terry, a breast surgeon at Texas Oncology.

Ted Canova: The same Dr. Terry for whom Lindsay's sorority sister was a patient.

Dr. Jamie Terry: I'm very honored that Lyndsay's mother, myself, and my husband, have been friends for over 20 years. So, I knew of Lyndsay when she was in college and pursuing her very successful career in New York.

Ted Canova: On the plane back to Texas, Lyndsay was nervous and anxious.

Lyndsay Levingston: First of all, I knew very little about breast cancer. I just assumed, as most people do, that it would end in death. So many things were going through my mind, that it was not a pleasant flight.

Ted Canova: Upon landing, Lyndsay embraced her mom.

Lyndsay Levingston: That was emotional. I cried. I don't know how many tears I cried, I was like cried out, because I was so scared. It's walking into the unknown.

Dr. Jamie Terry: I remember my first meeting with Lyndsay vividly.

Lyndsay Levingston: Walked into her office, I'll never forget the office was very basic, clinical feel. But… she embraced me.

Dr. Jamie Terry: She and her mother came. She was visibly upset, and I tried to sit and carefully listen to the events that led to her visit.

Lyndsay Levingston: She was warm, she was compassionate.

Dr. Jamie Terry: I tried to disarm her fear and guilt with empowering her to understand what I was going to outline as a treatment plan. When someone is diagnosed, it is not unique for them to feel guilty as it relates to their diagnosis and any potential delay in pursuing what they felt initially.

Lyndsay Levingston: She was walking through my pathology reports. I brought a journal and I'm going to take notes, and she said, "No, put your journal aside. I need you to be here with me. I need you to listen to everything I'm going to share with you, because it's a lot."

Dr. Jamie Terry: She had a triple negative stage 1b breast cancer. It was about an inch in size and there were no lymph nodes involved. Lack of lymph node involvement is a good prognostic as well as staging parameter.

Lyndsay Levingston: So Dr. Terry held me by the hand and asked me, at the age of 37, if I desire to become a mother, and I remember shaking my head, tears streaming down my face, yes, that I do desire to become a mother. And at that time, she said, "I'm going to send you to see a fertility specialist who works with women recently diagnosed with breast cancer, who can help you." So I gained 110% confidence that I was in the right place and that I was in the right hands with Dr. Jamie Terry at the helm of my course of treatment. I call her "the captain of my breast cancer survivorship".

Ted Canova: Statistically, black women like Lyndsay are at a higher risk for breast cancer and have a much poorer prognosis and survivorship long-term than women who are not black. While race wasn’t a determining factor in Lindsay choosing Dr. Terry, it did provide an additional connection.

Dr. Jamie Terry: It helps to have cultural sensitivity when you're compiling a cancer team because you're able to break down barriers that the patient might not even be cognizant of-communication, comfort with discussing side effects, comfort with discussing fears. I think that that made her feel more comfortable, that I had a connectedness with the community that would help her navigate the process of cancer treatment and care.

Ted Canova: Lyndsay received 15 weeks' worth of chemotherapy.

Lyndsay Levingston: The only side effect I experienced was fatigue. There were some days when I just wanted to stay in the bed, but most days I was up and about. I was very active because Dr. Terry said, "Getting through this is going to be a mental battle. It's mind over matter." And so, she said, "I need your mental to be strong and stay strong." And I maintain that mindset that I'm going to take over breast cancer. I'm not going to let it affect me. I said, "Breast cancer, I'm going to beat you, I'm going to kickbox you out, I'm going to Zumba you out, I'm going to stay active."

(Music transition and under Lyndsay)

Lyndsay Levingston: So I want to show you my journal. It's gray with the word "faith" on the front.

This is August 11: "Words cannot express the level of anxiety I felt when I woke up at 6:45 a.m. this morning. The feeling of the unknown is the hardest part of this journey. I was nervous, crying while chatting with all the nurses and staff and doctors, but they all put me at ease."

Quick cross fade, Lyndsay reading from journal: It happened so fast. So Friday was egg retrieval. Tuesday, I had my port inserted, the port through which I would be pumped with chemo.

Quick cross fade Lyndsay reading from journal: So this was right before…waking up very anxious this morning. Feelings of the unknown because I had never had a major surgery before this. Dr. Terry. Phenomenal. I was covered the whole way through.

(:02 music)

Lyndsay Levingston: I teared up when I just opened that first page and just reflecting on how far I've come in my journey, where I started and where I am today, it's very emotional because I didn't know what would happen.

Dr. Jamie Terry: She was luckily not a victim of any side effects that delayed that timetable because I believe she was very empowered to embrace and believe in the plan that was outlined. She allowed me to move her through the process what I call contiguously- when I outline the plan, I explain to the patient and their family, we are not only going to put one step in front of the other, we're going to do a little bit of a quick shuffle. We're not going to stop, start, stop, start- we are going to keep it moving, gain momentum, and avoid any significant stoppage.

Lyndsay Levingston: The nurses comforted me with warm blankets. They were very attentive and answered any question I had. And I just took it all in, that I was going through chemotherapy.

Dr. Jamie Terry: What is unique about Lyndsay's case is the fact that she embraced this with such vigor. She allowed the process to move very quickly, very methodically so that each team member had a smooth passage of the baton.

Ted Canova: One reason the baton passed so seamlessly was the wellness community that surrounded Lindsay.

Lyndsay Levingston: I felt like a member of the family at Texas Oncology. I never felt like just a patient, but they really were tuned in to Lyndsay. Every time I walked in, I felt very comfortable and confident that I was in the right place.

(Music transition)

Lindsay Levingston: I would tell someone starting chemotherapy right now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and you will get through it. And to follow your doctor's orders, everything the doctor told me, I did. I took the medication when I was supposed to, I watched what I was eating; I followed instructions, and they told me I was a star patient. Follow those instructions, and listen to your body, too. If you're feeling fatigue, rest. But if you're not, stay active, don't let chemo wear you down.

Ted Canova: Not only did the chemo rarely wear Lindsay down, it also did its job and shrank the mass in Lyndsay's breast.

Lyndsay Levingston: Oh, let me tell you, it doesn't just happen in one day. Midway during my journey, I discovered I carried the BRCA-1 gene mutation, which puts me at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers. So, Dr. Terry said, "I highly recommend we change our surgical plan to reduce your risk of breast cancer recurrence." So, she recommended the bilateral mastectomy. All I knew was both breasts would be removed. That was a mental punch, because all I knew about removing breasts is that I would have two scars across my chest. It was an emotional rollercoaster, this entire journey.

Ted Canova: Two months later, she had a bilateral breast mastectomy, followed by breast implants.

Lyndsay Levingston: I don't know that I would have been successful in my breast cancer journey if I were not treated by what I consider my family at Texas Oncology. The level of care, compassion, and professionalism really made a huge difference. And I'm like a cheerleader for Texas Oncology because I felt like a star. I felt like a very important person, a V.I.P. every time I walked through those doors and checked in for my appointments.

Ted Canova: It's not lost on Lyndsay either, just how important it was for her to be closer to home and not be forced to navigate cancer treatments in New York City.

Lindsay Levingston: Home is where the heart is. But there's just something about being home that brought me a sense of comfort during that time of chaos and experiencing mental and emotional trauma.

(:02 music break)

Lyndsay Levingston: One of the things for which I'm very grateful was the level of convenience of the Texas Oncology offices. I could not fathom hopping on the subway and getting into a taxi before and after a chemotherapy treatment. Absolutely not. But just a 20-minute ride to Texas Oncology Memorial City was nothing. And I will tell you, it made a big difference because after my treatment, I was so fatigued, I just wanted to get home and get in my bed. So, the proximity of the Texas Oncology facility made a big difference. It really did.

Ted Canova: The culmination of this loving bond occurred on the day we all celebrate love.

Lyndsay Levingston: Physically, I'm doing really well. My bloodwork is great. My numbers are great. I'm so blessed that I've been in remission now since February 14, 2020, on Valentine's Day is when I received the call that I was cancer free. I say that was a Valentine's Day gift from God.

(Music break)

Ted Canova: Dr. Terry just happened to be the conveyer of that gift.

Dr. Jamie Terry: I did call Lyndsay. I shared with Lyndsay that the pathology report revealed there was no evidence of residual or remaining cancer in her breast or the other breast, the lymph nodes, everything was clear. I tell patients that this is a lifelong health maintenance circumstance. This is the opportunity for you to remember to always prioritize you. So, yes, you are cancer free at this time. But cancer is not something that you forget about. You manage and you survey.

(:02- music full)

Ted Canova: Lyndsay's journey doesn't stop here. She started a nonprofit called SurviveHER to inform, inspire, and empower women about breast cancer. She also helps raise money to pay for mammograms and other preventative services for women who can't afford them. You can learn more about Lyndsay's organization by going to I Am Survive Her.org, that's "I Am Survive Her" with an "h", "e", "r".org.

(:02 Music transition, sound of drumming)

Ted Canova: Next on "Right Here"- being the drummer in a band is physical, and it's a trade that helped one woman strike back against cancer.

Woman: I remember being in the doctor's office and saying, you know, "Well, if it's aggressive, I want to be aggressive right back."

Ted Canova: Don't miss our next episode, when we meet April. We hope you enjoyed Right Here, a podcast from Texas Oncology, who knows that family and friends are a huge part of cancer treatment, so being right here makes a difference. For expert cancer care, contact Texas Oncology.com. I'm Ted Canova. See you next time. END