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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Find One Good Thing in Every Little Moment

By Stephanie Hargis

My name is Stephanie Hargis. I am 26 years old, married, and have a four-year-old daughter. In March 2022, I found a lump in my right breast and went to the doctor. I, along with my nurses and doctors, thought it could’ve just been a swollen lymph node since the lump was painful, I had no family history of cancer, and I was only 25 years old

After doing a sonogram and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage 2 triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma. At the time, I was finishing up the last year of my bachelor’s degree in social work. I didn’t want to stop going to school because I knew I could use that as a distraction from cancer treatment.

My oncologist used my blood sample and submitted it to Myriad Genetics for genetic testing. I did not meet with a genetic counselor. I was told by the surgical oncologist that I could wait for the results in order to make a decision about what surgery to do. I had made up my mind on doing a double mastectomy and decided to not wait.

In April 2022 I had a double mastectomy. It turns out I made a good choice! I tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation. This gene mutation puts me at risk for ovarian cancer, so I will need to have surgery in a couple of years to have my ovaries removed. I remember feeling like I was “defective” because no one else in my family had cancer. Two days after my mastectomy, I was back in the hospital for a week because of a fully collapsed lung.

I started chemotherapy (doxorubicin and Cytoxan) that June, and completed my treatment on Halloween. I graduated magna cum laude from The University of Texas at Arlington in December. I continued going to check ups and getting multiple scans.

In April 2023, I found out the cancer was back. I actually did not have any symptoms and did not feel anything different. It was much easier to notice something out of the ordinary on my body before any surgery and implants. The oncologist had ordered a PET scan and that came back clear. Less than two weeks later, I had an appointment with my surgical oncologist where she felt a strange lump. I had to go do a sonogram and biopsy, and that is how I found out about the cancer again.

I had to have more scans done to make sure it hadn’t spread, which thankfully it hadn’t. In May I had surgery again. This time I had a lumpectomy and 12 lymph nodes taken out, which thankfully tested negative for cancer. I had to do physical therapy to get my arm moving like normal again. 

Coincidentally, I started chemo and immunotherapy in June 2023, on the same day that I had started chemo the year before. The chemo I was administered was gemcitabine and carboplatin, which made me feel really sick. The immunotherapy I received was Keytruda.

On October 27, 2023, I finished chemo and the first part of immunotherapy. I am currently going through radiation. I have to do a total of 20 sessions. I am almost halfway done and I am experiencing what feels and looks like a sunburn. I will be completing radiation on January 18, 2024 and starting more immunotherapy on February 13.

In August 2023 I started the advanced standing master’s program for social work at UTA and if everything goes well, I will be done in August 2024. This experience has been full of ups and downs, but I feel blessed to still be here today fighting and pushing through.

The longer I have been in treatment, the more I find myself struggling with chemo brain and fatigue. Some days I cannot seem to get out of bed, but I am thankful that my daughter is understanding and knows those days are all about snuggles and movies. Other days I can get more things done and play outside with her and our puppy.

During my first chemo experience, chemo brain would frustrate me so much, especially while being in school. I would leave school crying because I was unable to memorize information that I would need for tests and quizzes. Over time I have learned to be patient with myself, and to be like Steve from Blue’s Clues and use my handy dandy notepad on my phone to type things I need throughout the day. When I have a chance, I work on different types of puzzles to help stimulate my mind.

A piece of advice that I would give someone who just got diagnosed would be to live your life to the max and reach your goals because cancer cannot and will not stop you. Find one good thing in every little moment and focus on that to get through the bad times.

Thank you for sharing your story, Stephanie!

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