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Months after her daughter was born, Jessica Stevens, a lab supervisor at IU Health White Memorial Hospital was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal breast cancer. Now she is heading up a team for the 2019 Komen Race for the Cure on April 27. The name of the team: “Do More for Stage Four.”
She thought it was a clogged milk duct. She was a new mom and Jessica Stevens was focused on breastfeeding her seven-month-old daughter. Cancer was not on her mind.
It was early August 2018 when she discovered the lump in her left breast. She decided to wait a bit and see if it would clear up. But after two weeks when the lump hadn’t changed Stevens messaged her OB/GYN who suggested massaging the area and applying warm compresses. The focus was still on a clogged milk duct.
“So I did that for about a week. I remembered that mastitis usually causes tenderness and pain, but that wasn't the case for me so I called and made an appointment with my OB/GYN. Dr. C. Jeffrey Myers took a look, asked if it had grown since I had first noticed it - I wasn’t sure,” said Stevens.
A graduate of Twin Lakes High School, Stevens earned bachelors degrees in biology and chemistry from St. Joseph College. She started as a med tech at IU Health White County Memorial Hospital in the fall of 2008 and advanced to Laboratory Supervisor in the spring of 2017. In May she will celebrate her ninth wedding anniversary to her high school sweetheart Carey Stevens. They welcomed their first child, a daughter named Aurora Quinn in February 2018.
Life was busy. Life was full.
Even when her doctor ordered an ultrasound, Stevens didn’t think there was much cause for concern.
“I have a history of cysts that have been removed and I figured it was just that,” said Stevens. An ultrasound and mammogram were scheduled that day. With Steven’s dense breast tissue, a cautionary recommendation was made to have a biopsy.
“Once I called my OB/GYN the radiology team at IU Health White Memorial was amazing at getting me scheduled quickly,” said Stevens. The night before the biopsy she discovered something else – another hard lump. This one was in her left armpit.
Both areas were biopsied and a week later, on Oct. 4, 2018 Stevens was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in her breast and a benign lymph node. There was more. She had been coping with reoccurring back pain and more tests showed a tumor on her spine. Further tests showed the cancer had spread to her lungs.
“The spine tumor biopsy showed the same cancer cells from my breast so it was decided then that my diagnosis had changed to metastatic (or stage four),” said Stevens. “In less than a month I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had two surgeries, multiple MRIs, and was officially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer,” said Stevens.
It was a meeting with IU Simon Cancer Center hematologist/oncologist Dr. Kathy Miller that set her on a course for an immunotherapy trial. She began treatments in December and after one cycle (three infusions) scans showed her tumors are gone.
“The doctors working on the trial were amazed. Apparently none of their patients have reacted this well to the Atezolizumab plus Chemotherapy combo,” said Stevens. “I'm pretty sure I almost fell out of my chair when I heard the news.”
While she knows the future is unpredictable, Stevens remains focused on the present.
That means taking her daughter out for her first Halloween, seeing the Christmas lights as a family and celebrating her daughter’s first birthday with family and friends. It means living her life.
“I know that a terminal diagnosis means that I'll never win my personal war against cancer. I also know that I can win certain battles in that war. I decided early that this disease would affect my life as little as possible,” said Stevens. And she hopes to make it her mission to help educate others about metastatic breast cancer.
As part of that mission, on April 27 she will captain a team in the Komen Race for the Cure. The name of the team: “Do More for Stage Four.”
“Currently metastatic breast cancer is not survivable, causing the death of nearly 40,000 men and women each year. I do not want to be part of that statistic, so I will be raising awareness while raising funds,” said Stevens. “Cancer is a scary thing, but at this point everyone has been or will be affected by cancer in some way. My goal is to get people to talk about it. Talking about cancer makes it real and real can be fought. There are advances in cancer research every day, and I hope the more people talk about it the more they become aware of all they can do to help.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health. Reach Banes via email firstname.lastname@example.org