Courtesy of KDMC
For 34 years, Jack Stephens sold groceries and sundries to the South Ashland community and provided exceptional service to the men and women working on the barges. So when the economy forced Jack’s South Ashland Market to close in 2014, the news rolled through the community like the wakes from those barges.
In retirement, Stephens kept busy. His deli creations, recipes perfected over the years for chicken salad and barbecue, were soon found in gas station convenience stores throughout the area. People literally ate them up.
But last October, Stephens’ life took an odd turn, one that marks this icon of the Ashland community as truly unique. Lying in bed watching TV before sleep, Stephens’ left breast started to itch. “I reached up to scratch my breast and noticed a lump. I knew that wasn’t normal,” he said.
Stephens called his primary care physician, Timothy Hart, M.D., who had him come in for a clinical breast exam. Dr. Hart informed Stephens that the lump was behind the nipple and didn’t appear to be connected to anything. He sent Stephens for a mammogram, which confirmed the lump. The mammogram was followed by a needle biopsy, a procedure in which a small amount of material is removed for examination in the lab. The diagnosis came back as stage 2 breast cancer.
Although most people diagnosed with breast cancer are women, men can develop the disease, too. About one in every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. each year is found in men; some 2,500 American men will receive the diagnosis in 2020. Symptoms in men include a painless lump or thickening in breast tissue, such as Stephens experienced, and changes to the skin covering the breast, such as dimpling, puckering or redness.
“I thought stage 2 is no big deal. Maybe six months of chemo and we would be done,” Stephens said, noting, “I’ve heard of stage 3 and stage 4, so …”
Hematologist/Oncologist Mohammad Ali Jafri, M.D., and the oncology multidisciplinary team reviewed Stephens’ biopsy results and imaging studies and determined the best course of treatment would be mastectomy followed by chemotherapy.
Breast surgeon M. Katherine Hughes, M.D., performed Stephens’ surgery, removing three lymph nodes along with the tumor. Two of the three lymph nodes were clean, but the third showed cancer cells, Stephens said, adding, “So she did suggest radiation then.”
Stephens completed 33 rounds of radiation treatment with radiation oncologist Terry Justice, M.D., at Tri-State Regional Cancer Center. He recently began chemotherapy at King’s Daughters Oncology Center of Excellence and is expected to complete those treatments in February.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer and going through surgery and treatment have been an “unreal” experience, Stephens said. But he remains upbeat, especially about the care he’s received. “It’s a good support system at the hospital. The doctors, the nurses, housekeeping. They’re always asking, can we get you anything, can we do anything for you?”
“I was lucky to catch it as soon as I did and that I did something about it. That’s the main thing,” Stephens said, adding, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”