When Pleasant Hill, Mo., resident Sherry Brisbin found a lump in her breast during a routine self-examination in March, she felt a painful and tender history repeating itself. Brisbin’s mother, Frances Fern, died of breast cancer at age 55, and her sister, now a breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed when she was 39 years old.
Brisbin vividly remembers the conversation that her mother’s doctor initiated with Brisbin and her two sisters at the end of their mother’s courageous battle.
“He told us to be vigilant with our annual mammograms, Pap smears and monthly self breast exams,” recalls Brisbin. “Our mother knew she had breast lumps, but wasn’t proactive and let it go.”
Brisbin, who retired with her husband, Pete, from their 25-year-old custom cabinetry business in 2008, was settling into the happy routine of enjoying life at a more leisurely pace. An avid gardener and reader, Brisbin and Pete were looking forward to travelling and pursuing their hobbies. When the petite 47 year-old woman was told she had Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma, she vowed to do everything possible to fight the disease.
Her first order of business was to find a doctor who would tell her the truth, no matter how difficult that truth might be to hear.
“I knew from being by my mother’s side during her fight with breast cancer that open communication with my doctor was imperative,” says Brisbin. “I had to be able to relate to my doctor, and we had to be on the same page as far as how aggressively I wanted to attack the cancer.”
In short, Brisbin said she wanted to fight tooth and nail against her cancer, and she needed a doctor who would collaborate with her on that goal.
Brisbin found her ideal doctor in William Stephenson, MD, a renowned Midwest Cancer Care medical oncologist with Research Medical Center who is also on staff at Belton Regional Medical Center.
“He is smart as a whip and on the cutting edge of treatment,” says Brisbin. “Pete and I were able to talk with him and ask questions. He made us feel like we were an important part of the process.”
Dr. Stephenson shared with Brisbin statistics about what her odds of survival were if she chose chemotherapy.
“My chances of living 10 years past my original diagnosis were 85 percent,” says Brisbin. “I liked those odds and chose chemotherapy following my lumpectomy.”
Brisbin completed her chemotherapy and radiation regiments in late summer. And, while she describes bone-weary fatigue, temporary neuropathy and hair loss, she also says the support that she and Pete received from Dr. Stephenson and the team at Belton Regional Medical Center was invaluable.
“Before I started my chemotherapy, Dr. Stephenson had a conference call at 7:30 one evening with Pete and me,” says Brisbin. “I was so full of fear and anxiety, and he answered every single question we posed. ‘This is your first step, this is your next step, this is what you can expect.’ He explained everything in a simple, connect-the-dot fashion.”
Brisbin says the straightforward manner Dr. Stephenson has consistently demonstrated helped her make crucial decisions about dealing with her breast cancer.
“I can’t say enough about Dr. Stephenson’s personal style,” says Brisbin. “Your thoughts are so different once you’re told you have cancer. You never know what’s going to happen, but I felt like I had partners in this journey.”
Brisbin says she will never be the same person since her breast cancer diagnosis. But she says the “what ifs” aren’t nearly as frightening.
“I can’t change the past or my family history and I don’t know the future,” says Brisbin. “But Dr. Stephenson and my medical team at Belton Regional Medical Center help me stay in the present, which is right where I should be.”