Posted on May 21
Survivor: Shelly Engle
In May 2004 I had just turned 31, had my yearly check-up with breast exam 2 months prior to discovering a lump that was quite obvious while in the shower (actually not a purposeful self breast exam, but thankful it stood out). I made an appt with the NP at my OBGYN office as I wasn't sure what to do and have really never been sick in my life, therefore it was the obvious place to go.
The NP didn't seem concerned given my age, and no strong family history, but scheduled me an appt for 2 weeks later at The Breast Center for an ultrasound. The ultrasound tech immediately looked concerned and called Dr. Grear in to take a look, which then prompted them to do a mammogram as well.
The words based on ultra sound and mammogram alone were startling from the get go, Dr. Grear looked at me and her words were "this is very worrisome to me". I lived here alone and was single (Tony, my now husband, was living in Minneapolis, as we had only been dating a short time before he was transferred), I had just purchased my first home and my family was not within close proximity.
After speaking to Dr. Grear on the phone during my appointment, my mother drove up that evening and the next day I had a biopsy of the area, which confirmed the following day, June 14, 2004, I had invasive ductile carcinoma. I was then sent immediately to see Dr. Cross, and had a brain MRI the same day, as they knew it was the most aggressive virulent form of breast cancer, Hormone receptor negative Her2+ (at that time it was an extreme concern for someone to have this diagnosis).
For the sake of my family and their proximity to Dallas, as well as my young age, I decided to go have a second opinion at Baylor. After pouring over information and Dr. recommendations, I decided to come back to Northwest Arkansas and have treatment here locally under the direction of Dr's Rosenfeld and Cross. I had one positive lymph node, and my tumors had grown together and were large.
Because of this, the Her2+ status of my pathology, and my breast cancer being extremely aggressive, I had chemotherapy prior to surgery to ensure the tumors I had responded to the recommended treatment, followed by bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction in May 2004 and November 2004 (2 surgeries). After healing and more research was done on Herceptin's success in treating earlier stage breast cancer, it was decided I would be placed on this form of IV treatments every 3 weeks.
I ended up being Dr. Rosenfeld's first patient to complete not one but two years of Herceptin. In a very strange way, Herceptin and Highlands Oncology became my security blanket. My mother basically lived here off and on during my treatments, and Tony as well as the rest of my family were present for both surgeries and treatments as needed since everyone except my mom was working full-time.
To this day, I'm so thankful for the treatment path and physicians I chose. I truly feel blessed and thankful everyday, but even after 6 1/2 years, I still have my moments of sadness, frustration and anxiety about the unknown, or if there's something strange or different in the way I feel. I'd have never made it without the support of great family and friends, from trips to chemo with me, to helping post surgery with drains, to a shoulder to cry on, I was very fortunate and still am.
I have been involved in the Race for the Cure each year as a survivor participant and top fundraiser since diagnosis. This year, I'm chair of survivor breakfast the day of the race.