A Breast Cancer Diagnosis Did Not Deter These Five Warriors – They Fought and Won!
October 7, 2021
Just hearing the words “You have breast cancer” is frightening and distressing. Moving on from fear to hope takes courage, faith, determination and lots of support and encouragement. We share the stories of five brave warriors who held on tight to their faith and positivity and ran with it, refusing to give up. We hope they inspire you as they have inspired us.
Mallory Sims White – 36
I was diagnosed with stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer in August 2020 at the age of 35. I never paid much attention to breast self-check guidance, but out of the blue one day in July, I checked. I felt a lump about the size of a marble near my sternum. I have no family history of breast cancer, aside from a great aunt who had breast cancer 60 years ago, and I have no known genetic components to my disease. My first mammogram was actually my diagnostic mammogram.
Dr. Flanders did a fantastic job of explaining the options to me and directing me to whom I needed to see and when. To shrink the tumor, I started with AC-T chemotherapy in August, which ended right after Thanksgiving. Talk about being grateful! Four weeks after chemo, I decided on a double mastectomy. Once I recovered from surgery, I had radiation treatments from January through March of 2021. I was officially declared in remission on May 7, 2021.
I have worked for Aiken Regional for the last four years and it has become my home away from home. The doctors, nurses, and all of the therapists were concerned for me and went out of their way to support me, my work schedule, and my journey back to good health. I can't imagine going anywhere else! I cannot say enough about their expediency - from detection in a self-exam to a diagnosis and chemo, it was 33 days.
Advocate for you!
When it comes to a cancer diagnosis, you want to know that it's being addressed, and quickly. You need to advocate for yourself as well. The original OB-GYN I contacted could not see me as a new patient for two months, so I went to Aiken OB-GYN and was able to be seen within 48 hours. Even if you have no history and no reason to believe it could be cancer, even if you think you are too young - fight for answers. You never know when it could be a matter of life or death.
I am so grateful for my husband, who was my biggest cheerleader. Our families took turns supporting me through treatments, and friends sent food, cards, hats and a comfort quilt. It is so important to reach out. I was so tempted to keep all of my problems, symptoms, pain and fear to myself. But with encouragement from others, I reached out to both my personal community and my Aiken Regional family and found myself abundantly blessed. Reaching remission after cancer truly takes a village, and I could never thank any of them enough for what they have done for me.
Rita Martinez Lopez – 47
I discovered a lump while doing a self-breast exam. I went to my primary care doctor and they sent me to get a mammogram. I do have a family history of cancer and I have had mammograms prior to my diagnosis because of that. I had three options for my treatment. I could have a lumpectomy, have the affected breast removed or have a double mastectomy where they would remove both breasts, along with chemotherapy and radiation. I decided on the double mastectomy for preventive reasons because I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation.
My surgery was in November 2020 and I had chemotherapy from December through February 2021, every three weeks. Radiation therapy lasted for one month and began in April. I decided on Aiken Regional based on the recommendation of my doctor. I am so glad I took his advice because my experience with the Aiken Regional team was wonderful and I highly recommend going there. They gave me all the attention I needed and made me feel comfortable with everything they did. Dr. Enter put me at ease and I believed I was in good hands. She helped me decide what would be the best option for me and made me feel like there was hope for me to beat cancer. I am so grateful to her, Dr. Flanders, Dr. Ezekiel and all of the nurses and staff that helped me. Thanks to them and God, I am alive and another survivor of breast cancer. To women everywhere, it is so important to get a mammogram annually and to do breast self-exams at home. If something does not feel right, get medical attention as soon as possible. Early detection helps save lives and there is always hope to fight against cancer, whatever your diagnosis. Never give up and always keep fighting!
Tara Stoker Bostwick – 59
I was diagnosed in January thanks to my regularly scheduled mammogram. I did not feel any lumps and I have no family history of breast cancer. Luckily, the cancer was caught early because of my mammogram. My treatment options were either a lumpectomy and radiation or a mastectomy, and I chose to have the mastectomy. I have had no other treatment since the surgery. Being treated at Aiken Regional Medical Centers was an easy decision because I have relationships with staff at the hospital. I felt very comfortable with the care I received there and I wanted to be close to home for this surgery. Not just for me, but for my husband as well. My experience there was very personal and caring, and it’s one of the reasons why I recommend them. They create a personal experience for every patient.
I would recommend Aiken Regional because of the connections I have made over the years at this hospital and in my community. Dr. Jim Boehner is by far the most compassionate, caring and relatable doctor I have ever had. I felt completely safe knowing he was there to support me. I have learned a lot since my diagnosis this past January. For starters, life is fragile and your perspective and priorities can change in a second based on a phone call. I like to be in control of my life and for the first time, I recognized that not everything is controllable. I felt that I was a healthy, fit, and active 59-year-old woman that was somewhat invincible. This diagnosis turned my world upside down in seconds and I could not control that story line. That was difficult to comprehend and come to terms with. But at the end of the day, I am extremely lucky and grateful to have survived this ordeal and hope to have put it behind me.
Everyone handles situations like this differently, and I found it easier to deal with this by not dealing with it so that I could get through each day without thinking about the possibilities. My advice to other women is to not put off their annual checkups. There is a reason why we are supposed to have annual exams. The good news is that my breast cancer was discovered early enough. Please get checked! I am so grateful for the team with Aiken Regional who thoroughly supported me in my journey.
Mary Lee Jones – 64
At the age of 64, I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. I discovered a lump during a self-breast exam and notified my doctor. A mammogram confirmed the lump was cancer. I do have a family history of cancer – my sister had metastatic breast cancer and my granddaughter was diagnosed with breast cancer a few days after I was diagnosed. I was happy and relieved at how quickly everything moved once I was diagnosed. I chose to have a lumpectomy and during the procedure they checked my lymph nodes. Luckily, the cancer had not spread that far. After the surgery, I had eight rounds of chemotherapy and then six weeks of radiation. I finished my treatment about two months ago and I am grateful to be cancer-free. I only have to go back for follow-up visits.
I chose to be treated at Aiken Regional Medical Centers because I worked there for 21 years in patient care, until I retired in 2018. The staff members are like my second family, and I love them and trust them completely. Dr. Enter was amazing, and I knew I was in good hands with her. She and the team took very good care of me and I am very happy with my outcome. The team care concept was key for me, and I would highly recommend this hospital to anyone. Aiken Regional is my hospital, and I go there for all my healthcare needs.
My advice to other women is to stay vigilant with checking yourself regularly. If you find something, get it checked immediately. Early detection and mammograms can save lives. The sooner you find something, the sooner you can get proper treatment. Through this journey, I have learned to not get discouraged, but to stay positive and realistic. Know that once you get diagnosed, it will be a long road until your treatment is done. Try to keep yourself in the best health possible by choosing nutritious foods. I relied on protein shakes to get my energy back. My family was also my support system, and I am grateful for everything they, and the staff at Aiken Regional, did for me.
Sara Shealy – 40
I was diagnosed with breast cancer following my first routine 3D mammogram a few weeks after my 40th birthday. While I have no first-degree family history of breast cancer, two distant cousins had it. My treatment options were to have a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy were recommended regardless of surgery choice. I decided on the double mastectomy, chemotherapy and Tamoxifen hormone therapy. I had four rounds of chemo, one every three weeks; Lupron/Zoladex for ovarian suppression for 16 months, and am currently on Tamoxifen for 10 years. I chose to be treated at Aiken Regional for several reasons. It’s convenient, familiar to me, my medical history is there, and my trusted doctors and nurses are there. I would recommend Aiken to everyone because I received top-notch care and was treated with genuine care and concern. They felt like family members.
My advice to other women is to do your breast self-exams and get your mammograms. Early detection truly saved my life! Aiken Regional has a wonderful compassionate team, the latest 3D detection equipment, my amazing surgeon, my brilliant oncologist and oncology nurses, a caring breast health nurse navigator, professional ultrasound technicians, radiologists, and nurses. I know that whenever I go there, I will receive great service and compassionate care.
I am so grateful for the experience I had at Aiken Regional, and Dr. Jill Enter was a big part of that. She has a huge genuine caring heart for breast cancer patients and their families, just like I do. She has always encouraged and supported me not only during diagnosis, surgery, and treatment, but also in my goals for the future. She knows how very much it means to me to be able to allow God to work through this difficult time in my life and be able to help others who face the same. Dr. Enter continues to give hope and comfort not only to patients like me, but also to my husband, my mother, my children, anyone in my life she encounters, and she gives from her heart. We knew that I was in good hands and that she would do everything she could to give me the best possible outcome, just as she would her own sister, mother or daughter.
Thoughts from the journey
These past two years I have learned that nothing in this life, good or bad, is wasted if we will only allow the experiences to be used for good, the good of ourselves and others around us. It all has a purpose and for that I’m so thankful. I have learned that some of the closest relationships in my life were only possible through this journey. I have learned what’s really important and allowed less important things to slide down lower on my priority list. I have learned to look for joy in life’s small simple moments, be content with what God has given me, and spread hope to anyone I encounter in my life.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so I like to think of this journey like reading a book or watching a movie. In the beginning, you don’t know what the conflicts will be, but you know they will come. There will also be moments of triumph and victory and celebration. Focus on each chapter or scene you’re currently in and once you’ve completed it, go on to the next. This is the story of you, but the story doesn’t end once you finish treatment. Cancer is only a portion of your story. It may be the most difficult part for some, but I promise it can be the best story of your life as you see how strong you really are. If you face breast cancer as one of your plot twists, I want to encourage you that you are not alone and you have a sisterhood waiting to embrace you with open arms. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of us! I know it can be awkward at first to share your story with someone you’re just meeting, but there’s nothing like the strength that comes from weaving our stories together to create a beautiful complex masterpiece that gives hope and healing not only to us, but to those who will walk down this path in the future.
The Pink Dandelions breast cancer support group is right here in Aiken and was started by a group of pink sisters who needed each other, found comfort in our shared hardship, and wanted more than anything to share this sisterhood with others walking the same road in our community. Whether you are newly diagnosed, in the fight, or a long-time survivor, all are welcome and encouraged to join. Meetings are typically the third Thursday of each month. As a young advocate for LBBC (Living Beyond Breast Cancer), I want everyone to be informed that breast cancer can happen at any age and you are not alone!
The Women’s Breast Health and Imaging Center
The Women’s Breast Health and Imaging Center is a Pink Ribbon Facility and is accredited by the American College of Radiology. The Center offers 3D mammography imaging, which can help detect breast cancer at early stages, when it's most treatable. Other services include diagnostic mammograms, bone density scans and stereotactic biopsies. The Center is the region’s only dedicated, freestanding women's imaging center and features an all-female staff which includes certified mammography technicians, a breast health nurse navigator, and board-certified radiologists and surgeons.
The Cancer Care Institute of Carolina
The Cancer Care Institute of Carolina is affiliated with Aiken Regional Medical Centers and located on the hospital’s main campus. The experienced oncology team offers the same high level of skilled cancer treatment and oncology services found in the nation’s leading cancer institutes and centers.