1. We had a life before the c-word: glimpsing back to time could help us understand who we are as cancer patients. Who was Stephanie before all of this?
Who was I before cancer? I was a workhorse. I devoted my energy to my job. It was stressful, but I was good at it and could multi-task like no other. I was also a lot happier and felt healthier.
Chemo has destroyed the cancer cells but also my body and mind. I also did a lot more things, traveled, and had more fun. I’m definitely not the same person.
2. When did things flip down? When did you receive your first diagnosis?
My first breast cancer was in Spring 2011. I had a lumpectomy and 9 weeks of radiation. I was great until cancer came back in Summer 2017. That’s when things went downhill for me. Once I started on Taxol chemo in September 2017, I was never the same again. Since then, I’ve done 2 rounds of chemo, multiple surgeries, 5 weeks of radiation, and now in a clinical trial chemo treatment. I’m on this chemo for life.
3. What kind of cancer you were diagnosed with?
In 2011 I was diagnosed with stage 3b triple-negative breast cancer. In 2017 triple-negative breast cancer came back near the same spot. In 2018, cancer moved to an auxiliary lymph node on my good side, making it metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. In 2019 stage IV metastatic triple-negative breast cancer that spread to both lungs, lymph nodes, and brain.
4. How did you manage the news?
When I got the news in 2017 cancer came back, I was pretty devastated. It never entered my mind the cancer would come back. The way I managed the news is to do what I usually do, keep pushing forward. Know what the task at hand is and keep going forward. Once I had a game plan from my oncologist or breast surgeon, I was calmer.
5. What did help you to go through the physical and emotional side effects of treatment?
Friends and documenting my cancer journey on my social media helped me get through dealing with cancer and going through chemo treatments and surgeries. Physically, I would run or walk whenever I felt able to.
After having a single mastectomy in 2017, after a month of recovery, I started physical therapy for my left arm because my surgeon had to remove a lot of tissue to get a clear margin and I couldn’t lift my left arm up. It took 3 months of PT but I did it and my arm was better after. Maybe not 100% but a lot better.
6. To be diagnosed with cancer is devastating news; to be diagnosed with cancer for a second time must be desolating. After a few years of remission, cancer came back again to your life. How did you cope with the sadness and anger from this cancer recurrence?
When cancer came back in 2017 after 6 years in remission, I was in disbelief and devastated, then I was very angry. I had cleaned up my diet, I exercised more, then cancer came back.
I never let myself get stuck in the sadness or depression for too long. One good trait I have is I’m a born fighter. I keep going no matter what comes my way. I’m also stubborn. I think that helped me get through the sadness and anger.
7. What type of cancer you were diagnosed with this time? How did you decide to fight back?
In July 2019, I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic triple-negative breast cancer again, but this time cancer spread to my lungs, lymph node, and brain. There were no treatment options available to me at that time except one clinical trial chemo regime, which I had to qualify for, and I’m still currently on and will be for life.
8. Medical researchers are trying to finding medicaments that reverse the course of cancer. Fortunately, you are beating up the numbers. What is your current treatment and how well are you doing?
The clinical trial chemo treatment I’ve been on since August 2019 is made up of 3 different types of chemo drugs. Taxol is a generic chemo drug that I get an infusion of once a cycle. I used to get it weekly until the dosage was reduced in January 2020 due to bad neuropathy. Tecentriq is an immunotherapy drug that I get an infusion of bi-weekly. It’s to help to boost the immune system to help my body fight off the cancer cells. And lastly ipatasertib chemo pills that I take daily. This is the drug that is specialized for this clinical trial. I take this every day. Every 4th week I am off all chemo for 1 week.
I’m doing very well on this chemo regime. After a shaky start with bad side effects, as of January 2020, I’ve had 5 clear CT scans, which means the chemo is working. All the cancerous nodes are not detected on the CT scans.
9. How do you push through the darkness and take action to prioritize life quality over everything else?
I’ll be honest, it’s been hard mentally to get through chemo during Covid-19. I’ve been quarantined at home since March 2020 and it’s easy to get depressed. I’ve had some down days, but also some good days. I’ve also had more anxiety during Covid, so I’m anxious whenever I have to go out for my medical appointments. Usually, I plan fun trips to get my mind in a better place, but since with a Covid I’m not able to plan anything right now, so I try to do other small things to keep me motivated and to keep from staying in a dark place of depression.
We each have something that makes us happy, so that’s what we should turn to in order to maintain a healthier mental state. I treat myself to my favorite foods or online shop for one thing that’s for me to enjoy, I watch my favorite reality shows to help me escape from reality.
If you’re not happy then what is the point in fighting so hard for so long, enduring the hard times of chemo? Life has to be worth it. That is what I’m currently struggling with now. My quality of life hasn’t been great during this chemo and I’m questioning the quality of life versus life extension. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, so we need to live more at the moment and be happy. That’s what I’ve learned and try to live by.
10. I truly admire your strength and determination to take control of your life. What would you suggest to anyone diagnosed with cancer?
My suggestion for anyone who is diagnosed with cancer is to be your best advocate. Fight for yourself because no one will fighter harder for you than yourself. Get the best doctors and hospital who make you feel comfortable, safe and you trust them.
Also, take it one step and one day at a time. Going through cancer and treatments can feel daunting and so overwhelming. If you take each step one at a time, it feels less stressful and scary. You’ll feel calmer that way. A friend taught me this and always reminds me of this whenever I start freaking out again.
11. Could you talk to us about your love for race cars and Formula 1?
How does this passion help you to boost your willpower?. My passion for the last 16 years has been following the race series Formula Drift. After going to my first Formula Drift and D1 event, I was hooked. I’ve traveled to see their drift events in other states. I’ve made amazing friends through a Formula Drift and that right now is why I keep going. FD keeps my spirits up and knowing I have a race coming up that I’ll be going to or watching online gives me hope & lifts my spirits up.
We all should find the one thing that gives us hope and makes us happy. That helps make the hardships of going through cancer, chemo, or any adversity a lot easier and more bearable.
12. Finally, what is your healing mantra?
My healing mantra is one step & one day at a time.
Follow Stephanie on Instagram @driftgirlca
Or your can help to her cause in: https://www.gofundme.com/f/stephaniecancerfund