In Her Own Words: Stacey Sanders

Breast Cancer Fighter and Research Advocate Tells Her Own Story

In the summer of 2020, I felt a lump in my breast which I brought up to my doctor at the time. I knew something didn’t feel right, but with no physical symptoms, I was told that it was likely dense breast tissue and not to worry.

In May 2021 I went for a routine mammogram. I was called back to the office for an ultrasound and then a biopsy. I received a call a few days later saying I had stage 2 HER2-positive breast cancer.

I was shocked to learn about my diagnosis since there was no family history of any kind of cancer.

Thanks to the support of my family and friends, I was able to get an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC. A month later I had a lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy. After surgery I found out that my lymph nodes and margins were clear, my ONCA score was a 1 and I did not have the BRCA gene. I did 4 weeks of radiation and thought I was going to be cancer-free. This was great – I just have to go for mammograms every 6 months along with blood work and I’ll be fine. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

In June 2022, on a routine 6-month oncology appointment, I found out that one of my tumor markers was elevated. After an MRI, PET Scan, liver biopsy and more blood work – I found out that the cancer had spread to my liver, and I now have Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. To say I was devastated is an understatement. I had several consultations with a liver oncologist and decided to have a liver ablation which, according to the Doctor, would prolong my life. This procedure was the most painful recovery. Months went by with regular blood work, scans and MRI appointments. My oncologist suggested I meet with a gynecological oncologist. My cancer is fueled by estrogen so removing that from my body is critical. A couple of months ago I had a partial hysterectomy. Thankfully, this recovery was easier, but going to the hospital and being treated for cancer never gets easier.

I have since learned from further exploration that my cancer was certified as a causal occurrence from the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. After working across the street from the site of the World Trade Center buildings for years before, I was only decades later beginning to show symptoms of illness.

People always say to me, you look fine how do you have stage 4 cancer? I respond, I may look ok from the outside but on the inside my body is fighting a war. Right now, this cancer is never-ending. I take several medications daily, including a chemo drug called Ibrance, which helps slow the progression of cancer, but it can also cause side effects, some of which are serious. The disappointment of not being able to do all of the things I used to do is very present. I feel fatigued, nauseated, and have painful side effects daily from all the medications I’m on for my lifetime…or until there is a cure. Though the medicine is working at this time, and my cancer treatment is under control as it is.

I am always reading about and looking for any new research findings available to treat Metastatic Breast Cancer and finding that research makes me hopeful that progress is always possible. The cancer I have is not curable, but it is treatable. Research is so much more important to me now that I am one of the lives that wants to be saved.

I try to make the best of it. Stay positive, and not dwell on my diagnosis. I have a great support system that includes my live-in boyfriend, Jeff Smookler, my family and friends, and a great therapist who brings me a different perspective when those closest to me are feeling too emotionally connected to my illness and its current outlook. I belong to a Facebook support group online, and it gives me hope to know that I am not alone in this—that there are other women who may be on my same journey, dealing with the same kinds of things, and we have one another to share frustrations and hopes with too.

My greatest motivator is to see my niece and nephews, ages 20, 18 and 16, to grow up and become adults, with celebrations and milestones.

I believe that with research, it’s possible I will be there to see them, and celebrate alongside them. Why can’t I be one of the women who live another 15 or 20 years? Progress is always possible. I stay mindful of that.

Victory Over Cancer is possible too, but it will take funding for these researchers to do what they do best and find the cures for all types of cancers.

This is why it is so important to raise money for cancer research and never give up hope.
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