Meet former 76ers Cheerleader Sharon Steidler (the dancer on the right). Hands down, Sharon’s the most talented dancer I’ve ever met. (We were on the 76ers dance team together.) A picture of health, too. Sharon’s story is timely as it relates to this week’s headlines about the Mammogram Storm. In short, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reversed previous advice and recommended that women in their 40s not at high risk for breast cancer forgo mammograms. Basically, the thinking is that the slight benefits of early detection in women in their 40s (risk of dying of cancer drops from 3% to 2.7%) does not outweigh the “costs” defined partly as stress and unnecessary X rays and biopsies. More than half of women ages 40-49 will have a false-positive mammogram during a decade of annual screening leading to additional X-Rays and biopsies.
This debate about whether women should be screened before the age of 50 has been going on since mammograms became all the rage. The Philadelphia Inquirer calls the debate “scientifically unresolvable.” And frankly most doctors interviewed recently say they’ll continue to give referrals for women who want a mammogram. So it’s unclear whether this week’s recommendations will have any long term impact at all.
One thing is clear, however. Some women are outraged, particularly those with a personal story about the benefits of early detection in a young woman. This brings us back to Sharon. Sharon was diagnosed with Stage III Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Thankfully, she’s doing well today. I asked her to share her story with us well before the recent recommendations were released. I was more interested in helping Sharon find some purpose in her experience while exploring how someone like Sharon (a self-described “non science” person) became well informed and quite articulate about all things “breast cancer”. Here’s her story.
I met Darlene when we were both members of the Philadelphia 76’ers dance team. Dream Team, if you will. This was way back in 1991!!! Ahh…So much has changed since then! The plot thickens! Since I met Darlene, I have been a professional dancer and background singer for Legends in Concert…Lived many places, including Myrtle Beach, Atlantic City and finally here in Branson Mo. I am single and now work for a chiropractor.
In 2006 I was diagnosed with breast cancer just two weeks after my 39th birthday. I was still working as a dancer in Legends when I found my lump myself. It was actually really strange how I found it. I had been let go from my position in November of 2006. Maybe too old 🙂 It was a blessing in disguise. The company asked me to do two more shows for them in January. While we were rehearsing, I was doing choreography and hit my self in my left breast with a cowboy hat, of all things. I remembered that it hurt a little. I went home that night and did a self exam, and sure enough, felt a lump. It was the size of a pea. I knew that I had to see a doctor before my insurance ceased. When I finally saw a doctor, she told me not to worry. Cancer doesn’t hurt and not to lose any sleep over it. She ordered a mammogram anyway. I had the mammogram and they just kept bringing me back in for more pictures. Finally, they were satisfied and brought me in to discuss the results. They had found a mass that did “not look good”. I had not one but three suspicious areas. Next step: a biopsy.
After a very painful, but necessary biopsy, it “looked like” I had Stage II Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. No history in the family. I wasn’t even 40. Healthy. At the time, I had not had alcohol nor cigarettes in over a year. Exercised every day. Two shows a day, six days a week.
When I got the call, I honestly was not surprised. I was a little numb, but I knew I had to do something and have a positive attitude. I don’t even think I cried that much. I asked my family and friends to be as supportive and positive as they could.
I finally found out, after a second opinion and a consultation with my doctors in Florida ( I moved to Florida to get treatments at Moffitt Cancer center in Tampa), that this was not going to be easy but do-able.
I still didn’t know what stage it was. The doctors wouldn’t know until they did the surgery. I was given options for various treatments. Bi-lateral mastectomy, single mastectomy, lumpectomy….I chose a bi-lateral mastectomy, with reconstruction and nipple and skin sparing. My doctor was very confident in any of these which was a blessing. He is one of 20 something doctors in the nation that do the nipple and skin sparing (meaning I would still have that, just not the breast tissue) I also had reconstruction started the same day. I had no idea they could do this! I did learn that this type of cancer does not discriminate. Men, women, young and old. There are no answers as of yet as far as I know and I’ve been keeping an eye on this type of news.
My treatment plan included chemotherapy, (8 rounds. Four one drug, or cocktail as they call it, and four of another). The next step was radiation. So amazed by the science of radiation. Not sure how many rounds I had. Since 24 lymph nodes were removed and 12 were cancerous, I had to have radiation. I didn’t have to have as many as we originally had thought. I responded very well to both treatments.
Turns out I had Stage III breast cancer, after everything was said and done. Radiation, like I said was so interesting. I had no idea it was such an exact science. They can pin point the exact area where a person needs to be radiated. They tattoo the areas where the lasers are going to be directed, and the rest is spared. That is why I was able to do skin and nipple sparing. It did damage some of my skin, and I had to have my left implant removed, but this is not the end. I can have another reconstructive surgery in about six months. The reason it did damage me was because I was so thin. I weighed about 110. I do not regret going this route at all. So many people just wanted me to forego the chemo and radiation. I am currently 2 1/2 years out. Just had my 2 1/2 year check up and everything is great!!!. I am still trying to learn and be more literate of the disease. It is hard when you are going through it. I slept so much. But, I’m certainly more appreciative of the scientists who have been working on treatments for years.
My prognosis in my eyes and the eyes of my oncology team is very good. I just had my check up and everything was fine. My tumor markers were perfect. After 3 years, they don’t require blood work unless there is a problem.
This disease has changed my life in a positive way. I am so positive and happy. I went through a heck of a lot, but at the same time, I think my illness made me a better person. Strange, but very true. How would I ever be asked to do something like this without being a survivor. That is the key. I AM A SURVIVOR…Because of science, I am still here…..Think about that. I am not going to leave out God either.
Thank you Darlene for giving me this chance!!! This disease must be eradicated for sure!
Thank YOU, Sharon, for sharing your story with us. GOOOOO Sharon!
If you or someone you know is “young with cancer,” check out this new site: i2y.org (“I’m Too Young For This” sponsored by the Cancer Foundation). I’d like to add a personal note here. My dance teacher and long-time childhood mentor died on her 40th birthday from breast cancer that had not been detected until it spread to her bones. She never had a mammogram. Before her death, she reminded every woman she met to “get a mammogram”. Sharon and my dance teacher, Wendy, experienced radically difference outcomes. It’s important to remember, ending on a high note here–it’s Friday after all!– that less than 7% of women under 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer (and many of those who are diagnosed will fall into a high risk category).
I view Sharon’s story as one of inspiration. Stage III and I’ll bet $20 she’ll be dancing again soon. You heard it here, folks!
A pretty amazing story that goes to show how we are all different and that statistics don’t always doe well for those who are in the fringes for whatever reason. It is always good to hear such stories to remind us of our humanity- thanks for sharing these touching stories of these women!
I hope Sharon stays cancer-free. I don’t have a strong opinion either way on the new recommendation, but I wanted to point out that Sharon found her lump on her own, not through routine mammograms. It would be interesting to find out the breakdown of breast cancer diagnoses by age and by how it was initially discovered. Mammograms are not very accurate as a screening tool; hopefully better methods are being developed right now.
Way to go Sharon! Your story is an inspirational one.
Thanks, Paul and Kelly. Indeed, a mammogram was used after Sharon discovered her lump. The new guidelines reference in the above post also recommended against teaching breast self-examination. :/
It is my distinct pleasure to know Sharon. She is a beautiful and vibrant woman in her prime. She was able to catch this dread diisease when it was still very treatable. I find this to be vital. Why? Because Sharon and I met while my beautiful girlfriend was fighting cancer. We did not catch the cancer early. Karen and I went through 5 chemos and three radiations. Karen died on July 4 2009. She was 41. We can stop here or live on knowing this is treatable. Sharon is my friend, thank God. I feel blessed to know her. I was once complete with another. Now I carry Karen only in my heart. Let’s kill cancer with everything we have. Get the tests. Fight like Sharon, get out there and beat this thing. I know what it feels like to lose. Yours; Scott Underhill.
I have the pleasure of saying I have known Sharon since first grade and she is an amazing person. Keep fighting the fight Sharon and we love you!
Worldwide recommendatons (including the ACS and WHO) recommend against teaching formal breast self-exams. That recommendation is very different from making a habit of being aware of your body and changes in your body.
Sharon, as described by her story, discovered her lump by being aware of her body, not from a routine self-exam, which is what the training process being discussed is about.
It is also worth noting that the recommendations expressly direct the decisions to screen to be made on an individual basis by patients in consultation with their doctor to evaluate individual risk characteristics.
My family has experienced this issue from all sides: familial high risk, death due to non-familial cancer, and false positive. None of them are good, but the best odds are understandable with science. I’m very pleased to see that 20 year old recommendations are finally being revisited and reconsidered with the best research on breast cancer that the past couple decades have provided.
Sharon is my sister and I am very proud that she has handled EVERYTHING that breast cancer presents to you with such courage. She was so strong. It was a tough couple of years, but look at her now!!!!!!!!! I love her very much.
I thank each and everyone of you for your opinions and voices. Breast Cancer research to me is such an important thing as is any research for Cancer…Darlene has brought me into her world for a very important reason. This is a terrible disease for all….I don’t know alot about science and I admit that. I do know that I have witnessed what this terrible disease can do…In the hospital with strangers, that I don’t know, and with my wonderful friend Karen Bull, whom I held her hand while she fought and lost the battle. The only way around this is to get the info out there, as Darlene is doing. Paul, Kelly and Keli..Thank you…Thank you for reading this and understanding, and imparting such words of wisdom and encouragement…Scott…I will continue to fight and work towards a cure …Not for me but for Karen…That is just who I am…Ken…You are an amazing friend that I cherish. My sister Patty…She is the one who took care of me through all of this……She saw my ups and downs…She knows what this disease can do to a person and it honors me that she says I fought it with courage…None of this would be possible without the technology and science we have today. I say we move forward in a positive direction….Self exams, Mammograms….Whatever it takes. That is the beauty of science.
Rugbiyologist..Thank you from every ounce of my being…
I have been fortunate to know Sharon several years now and call her a very dear friend. She has always been a beautiful person inside and out and the way she handled this has continued to show me how truly amazing she is…Sharon – you are an inspiration and blessing to all…
We still need to do the Avon Walk – together with you on that stage as a SURVIVOR!!! Love you Girlfriend!!
Thank you Ronda…..Your love and support by doing these fund raisers is what allows us to advance, possibly curing this and many horrible diseases….Yipee for science and yipee for you…….
I just discovered this thread, it appears all of these posts are four years old. Since breast cancer survival rates are based on a five-year survivorship, how is it now, Sharon?
Thanks for asking Jennifer. Sharon’s doing well! Check out her story on pages 8-9 here: http://issuu.com/kano7876/docs/breastcancer/1