Thank you to our winner of our “Share Your Cancer Story” contest! Sharing cancer stories can be both healing to the survivor and inspirational to those fighting the fight. Thank you Stacey for sharing your story!
My name is Stacey Wilcox and I was diagnosed at the age of 45. I was preparing to be a grandma for the first time. Here is my story.
My journey started on January 10, 2015 a normal Saturday. As I showered I felt a hard lump near the crease of my left breast at about the 4 o'clock position. I then looked in the mirror for any visible changes and when I flexed my pectoral muscle it drew in and created a dimpling of my skin. Looking on the Internet this was one sign of breast cancer. I made it through the weekend and called my GYN Monday morning to get an appointment. I was lucky and was able to get in that day. She scheduled me for a repeat mammogram (I had just had my annual one in October 2014) and an ultrasound.
The morning after the mammogram and ultrasound my phone rang at 8:15 am. I knew this wasn't good. The lady on the other end of the phone told me that I needed a core biopsy. I had the biopsy and that day the Dr. said we needed to wait for the pathology report but that she was sure it was going to come back showing cancer. She thought it was caught early. 5 days later pathology confirmed it was IDC Stage 1B grade 2 ER/PR+ her2-. This was all very foreign to me because I had never researched breast cancer. I had no family history so no reason to be concerned this could happen to me.
I had several appointments over the next couple weeks with oncologists, breast surgeons and plastic surgeons to find my team. I found my team and decided to have a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I had my surgery on 2/24/15 with Dr. Lindsay Gold and Dr. Kimberly Pummill my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon. I had immediate reconstruction with tissue expanders as I was told this was the easiest of all the surgeries. I'm not sure how many days passed before the pathology report came back. I received an email from Genesys saying I had new information in my patient portal so I pulled up my pathology report and started reading it.
This says the cancer was pleomorphic invasive lobular grade 3 still ER/PR+ her2-. This made no sense because that's not what the other report said. I wasn't given a stage and still to this day wasn't given a new stage. It said the first lymph node had 2 clusters of cancer in it. Confused my husband and I went back to the internet to research this very odd and scary sounding cancer. This type of lobular cancer makes up .7% of all breast cancer. I waited for my oncotype score to see what the plan was. It came back at 23 so I decided chemo would be best for me. I told my oncologist I didn’t have the surgery I had just to fight it part way I was fighting all the way. The radiation oncologist said I needed radiation also.
So on Good Friday in 2015 I had an appointment at Katie’s Spa with Kim to shave my hair in preparation for chemo on April 14, 2015. I was able to donate my hair to the American Cancer Society who sent it to Pantene. Pantene makes the wigs that are given out for free to cancer patients. I had 4 rounds of Taxotere and Cytoxan given every 3 weeks; I had to get the Nuelasta shot the day after my chemo infusion. Chemo put me into menopause since I have not had a cycle since after my first round in April 2015. I call this chemopause and I have terrible hot flashes. I had a setback after my first round of chemo; I developed an infection in the tissue expander on my cancer side. My plastic surgeon recommended emergency surgery to remove the infected expander.
On May 5, 2015 I had the surgery to remove the expander. This was my 25th wedding anniversary. I was scheduled for chemo that day but the infection needed to be taken care of so I had the surgery and the following week I had the chemo. I refer to this day as the day I became a uniboob because now I was flat on one side and had an expander with 420cc’s of saline on the other side. I made it through the rest of my chemo infusions with the last one being June 23, 2015. I started radiation on July 14, 2015 and had 28 treatments. This is every day Monday-Friday at the same time every day. I made my daily drive from Bay City to Flint for the appointment that took less than 5 minutes except the day’s I seen the Dr.
My last radiation treatment was August 20, 2015! For me this was the easiest part of my treatment because my skin didn’t react like many told me it would. I didn’t get sores I just looked like I had sunburn. I was now given Tamoxifen an estrogen blocker to help prevent my cancer from returning. My oncologist will have me take it for 10 years.
My next step was finding a new plastic surgeon to finish my reconstruction. My current plastic surgeon Dr. Kimberly Pummill said she wouldn’t do the procedure I needed because she wanted me to have someone who does it all the time. I needed what they call a “flap” surgery because radiated skin will not stretch so I needed healthy skin and muscle from another part of my body brought around to stretch. I decided on Dr. Momoh at the University of Michigan. He suggested the latissimuss dorsi flap as my best option. The latissimus dorsi flap is where skin and muscle are taken from your back and placed on the breast. I had to wait 6 months after finishing radiation before I could have the surgery. On February 11, 2016 I had the surgery at the University of Michigan. I stayed 2 nights in the hospital and then sent home to recover. I also had a tissue expander placed but it wasn’t filled at that time. I was given 2 JP drains (these remove fluid from the surgical area) and waited patiently to have them removed. I was able to have one taken out after a couple weeks but still had the other one. Finally just over one month after surgery I was able to get the second one removed. This was a happy day as I feel these are a form of torture lol. I had the 2nd drain taken out on a Friday and Saturday I noticed fluid in my back where the muscle and skin were taken. I called on Monday and went into the office and had 70 cc’s of fluid taken from my back. I already had an appointment on Friday of this week and at that appointment I had 60 cc’s of fluid taken from my back. I was scheduled in the following Friday one week later and had 150 cc’s taken again. The decision was made to have a drain placed back in So on the following Monday I had a post surgical drain placed. After about a week the drain started taking on air (it developed a small leak) so that drain was taken out and a week later a new drain was put back in. It seemed like I was never going to get rid of this drain because every time it was taken out I developed a seroma (a fluid collection) my body was producing too much fluid for it to be absorbed.
I was scheduled for the exchange to implants on May 24, 2016. My Dr. decided he would place a new surgical drain at the same time. I had a drain for 89 days from February 11 until June 7th when I was finally able to have it removed for good. Shortly after my implants were placed I noticed the non-cancer side starting to become firm and move up. I was at this time diagnosed with capsular contracture. I needed another surgery to fix this.
On July 8th they scheduled me for surgery on December 7, 2016. This was not a reasonable time to get me scheduled so I found a new plastic surgeon Dr. Andrea VanPelt in Grand Rapids at Partners in Plastic Surgery. She was able to do my surgery and fix my capsular contracture on September 15, 2016. During this surgery she also did fat grafting. Fat grafting is where they take fat from one part of the body and put it in the breast to fix any dents or ripples. On May 24, 2017 I had another revision surgery to lift the non-cancer side and more fat grafting to make them symmetrical. This surgery was exactly one year from the day I had my implants placed.
I’m still recovering from surgery but feeling much better. I have had a difficult time with reconstruction. I still wouldn’t change my decision to have reconstruction. Hopefully soon I will be all done with surgery and able to move on with a normal life. I am now seeing my oncologist every 6 months.
Since going through my cancer journey I have signed up and become a Road to Recovery driver for the American Cancer Society. I have provided 19 drives to cancer patients to and from treatment. My very first drive took me from Bay City to Prescott to West Branch back to Bay City and then back to West Branch to take her home this was 178 miles total driving. One reason I took the assignment was I felt if I didn't she wouldn't get to her chemo in Bay City. I took her to 2 of her treatments before she was hospitalized. I did go visit her a couple of times just to see how she was doing since she stopped treatment. I formed a bond with her and she has since passed away. I will always remember her.
Thank you for letting me share my story.