Stella Hicks is originally from Ohio and now resides in Port Charlotte.
When were you diagnosed and at what age?
My first diagnosis was in 2009, just before my 39th birthday. Just a year ago, I was diagnosed for the second time.
What kind of treatment did you receive?
The first time, I had a lumpectomy, then three treatments of chemo, then a year of Herceptin because it was estrogen receptor positive, then I was on tamoxifen for five years.
This time, since it was my second reoccurrence, my oncologist wanted me to do gene testing, which I did and I wasn’t BRCA, I was a Chek2 mutation. So instead of going through the ovaries like BRCA, the Chek2 gene goes through the intestine. Then I did a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Now I’m on another medication that I’ll be on for another five to 10 years.
Did you face any obstacles and, if so, how did you overcome them?
Insurance is always a big one. But I had a lot of help from people who knew how to navigate that.
And chemo takes a lot out of you. I kept looking at the elderly people going through treatment and thinking “this is hard for me, I wonder what it’s like for them.” Side effects from the chemo are rough.
When I had the mastectomy, I was off work for a few months but my husband did such a good job taking care of me. There’s just lots of healing involved and sometimes you get tired of feeling tired.
What was the most challenging part?
Trying to find normalcy in your life. I worked through all of it, except during surgeries and to me, that was part of being normal. At least I had somewhere to go where I wasn’t thinking about breast cancer all day long. It was therapeutic.
Where did you find the most support?
Courage over Cancer, my friend Joan and her husband were great caretakers. My husband, my family and friends.
When I’d get home from chemo, I had friends who would bring me food so I wouldn’t have to cook, my husband wouldn’t have to cook. Somebody was always around to take me where I had to go. Most of my family is up north but they would send me care packages in the mail – that made me feel better.
How has this experience affected your relationships with friends and family?
They often say cancer makes you look at life differently and I think that is true because you try not to sweat the small stuff anymore. You have to appreciate what you get.
How has this experience changed you?
I’ve learned that I am stronger than I thought I was and I’ve overcome a lot of my fears.
What advice would you share with others?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Every time I saw my doctors, I always went in with a list. They’re there to help you.
Your friends, your family – don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are services where people will come in and clean your house while you’re going through chemo. There are so many meal delivery services now. Take advantage of all that stuff.