Fighter Finds Own Cancer After a Clear Mammogram


Lisa Patrick

The Ashland Beacon


   Stephanie Neill is 52-years-old and has been having yearly mammograms for roughly 10 years. Unlike most women, Neill has very dense breast tissue, so she almost always got a call to come back for additional imaging. This year, instead of a call back, she received a call telling her that the mammogram that she had done on July 27 was negative and that they would see her next year. The very next day, Neill performed her monthly self-check and found what the mammogram missed.

   Neill explained that during her shower, she found a lump while washing. She went for her yearly physical with her primary care provider and told her about the lump. Her primary care provider ordered an ultrasound. When the ultrasound was questionable, she was called back in.

   The next step was a biopsy, and it didn’t come back with great news. Neill got a call that “the results were not as they had hoped and to immediately come down to the breast center and talk to the breast nurse navigator.” She said at that point, she knew. She called her husband at AK Steel and told him that they needed to go meet with the nurse. As the breast nurse navigator explained everything, she sat there thinking, “I’m dying.” She said that the next question was “where do you want your treatment?” But when you’ve just been told that you have cancer, where you want to endure treatment is not a question that you have an answer for.

   Neill’s first instinct was to call everyone she knew in the medical field, and everyone that had been through breast cancer. She said that several people told her to go to a bigger medical facility for a second opinion, but that her thought was, “why disrupt your life and pull up roots? There is great, knowledgeable care here.”

   Neill was officially diagnosed with cancer on August 2. She chose to go to Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center at Cabell Huntington Hospital, where Dr. Mary Legenza was very good about getting her in quickly to discuss surgery and other options. Neill said that she chose to take a drastic route and have both breasts removed in a double mastectomy, “wanting to reduce my chances of a recurrence,” especially at her age.

   Neill’s mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer, but not until she was 75. Neill underwent genetic testing but her cancer proved to “not be genetically driven.” She found out that only about 20 percent of breast cancer is due to genetics. She said that the doctor told her that “the reason that you are here is that you are a woman and you’re aging.” That is a reality something that all women face, as one in eight women will get breast cancer.

   Neill said that “dense breast tissue shows up white on a mammogram just like cancer cells.” Her doctor told her that “never in a million years, no one would ever have looked at her mammogram reading and seen the cancer” because it was hiding behind the breast tissue.

   Neill is pleased with her treatment, and will undergo reconstruction surgery at the end of November. She does not think that she will be finished with her journey until February or March, but then will still have to take anti-hormone drugs.

   “In my naive head,” Neill thought, that if she had a double mastectomy, she “would not have to worry about chemo or radiation.” Unfortunately, Neill’s oncotest came back with a high percentage and she will have to begin chemotherapy this week. Her spirits remain high as she posted on Facebook that “you might see me out in a cute wig soon.”

   Women often get so busy taking care of everyone else that they put themselves last. Neill advises everyone to get their yearly mammogram, but also to choose a day of the month to perform self-checks. If women perform their own exam every month, they will “begin to recognize what is normal and what is not.”