Terri Hutchison was only 19 when she lost her mother to breast cancer, a loss that she has felt most of her adult life.
Dorothy Stemberger, then 40, lost one breast and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer eventually spread to her bones and she died at the age of 44. Hutchison, who was expecting her first child at the time, experienced a tumultuous range of emotions.
“My family watched my mother go through so much hell, so much sickness and pain,” she said. “I was on bed rest then and grieving my mother while preparing for the birth of my son. My mom died in January and I had my son in February. She never got to see her first grandchild.”
Eventually Hutchison divorced, remarried and received her degree in criminal justice from Columbia College. For the past 14 years, she has worked as a gaming enforcer for the Gaming Commission. Now 46, she lives in Versailles with her husband, Craig, and two daughters, Kylie, 11, and Ashley, 8.
Due to her mother’s history of breast cancer, Hutchinson, 46, started having yearly mammograms when she was 30 years old, mostly as a precaution. She was also fit, active and exercised frequently, “the proverbial picture of good health.”
Even so, this past December history seemed to repeat itself when an abnormality was detected in her right breast during her annual screening mammogram at St. Mary’s Hospital.
“I was in total shock. I felt that being a few years older than my mom was when she was diagnosed that I had made it past this hump,” she said. “Even when I went to get the biopsy I didn’t think that it was cancer—I went to the appointment alone and was by myself when I got the news.”
Her father, grandmother and her aunt took the news very hard.
“Our thoughts were all on my mother and they were very worried,” she said. “But after they saw me they couldn’t believe I was sick because they kept telling me ‘that I looked so good.’”
The advantages of 3-D mammography aided in her cancer being found early, when it’s most treatable. After an outpatient lumpectomy performed by her surgeon Dr. Jonathan Roberts and six weeks of radiation at St. Mary’s Cancer Center at JCMG her prognosis is very good.
“Catching the cancer early prevented it from spreading and meant that I didn’t need chemotherapy,” she said. “I’m living proof that mammograms are important.”
During her radiation, under the care of Radiation Oncologist Dr. John Bechtel, she continued to work and attend her daughters’ dance competitions. She didn’t tell them that she had cancer.
“I told them that I needed surgery to remove a growth so I could be healthy. When I learned about my prognosis I told them in greater detail,” she said.
Although she longed for her mother throughout this process, Hutchison remained upbeat and was supported by her family and her coworkers.
“The people here were wonderful,” she said. “The staff brought me anonymous little gifts and was always supportive. I’m so thankful for everyone from management on down.”
“Although this was a bad situation, many others have it much worse. I’m so thankful I had the 3D mammography so that the tumor was found in the very early stages. I am a huge advocate of early detection with yearly mammograms. It saved my life.”
She finished her radiation in February and has regained her usual energy level. She walks the Greenway Trail along Edgewood during her breaks and works out in the training room at work with exercise videos.
Currently, she’s seeing Dr. Shadi Haddadin, a hematologist/oncologist at St. Mary’s Cancer Center at JCMG, and taking tamixofen, a drug that may help prevent breast cancer in women who are at a high risk because of age, family history, or other factors.
“My care has been very thorough,” she said. “Dr. Roberts had me undergo genetic testing and all the tests came back negative. Dr. Haddadin even reviewed my mother’s records from Ellis Fischel where she was treated to make sure he covered all the bases.”
Unlike her mother, Hutchison is enjoying being a grandma. Her oldest son, Kyle Cobb, has two children, Kolten and Kimberly, and Hutchison plans to be there when her daughters grow up, marry and have children of their own.
Even though there will always be a void for Hutchison, and her mother is never far from her thoughts, she inherited her upbeat attitude.
“My mother was very positive throughout all the pain she went through and she fought for her life. I knew right away that I was going to do anything I had to do to survive for my family,” she said.
Did you know your risk of developing breast cancer increases with age? In addition, many breast cancers do not produce symptoms. The American Cancer Society recommends annual screening mammography and clinical breast examination for all women beginning at age 40.
“Breast cancers found in their earliest stages are the most treatable and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital offers the latest in 3D mammography technology, which is used to detect the smallest breast cancers,” said Janet Wear-Enloe, director, Business Development & Marketing.
To encourage women to schedule a mammogram, St. Mary’s Hospital will be holding its first “Mammothon” on October 14 and 15, between 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at St. Mary’s Hospitals in Jefferson City and Mexico, Missouri.
“The goal is to focus on women who haven’t had a mammogram as well as those who have not had one in several years,” said Wear-Enloe. “By offering extended hours on these two days, we will have the capacity to reach 100 women in Jefferson City and another 50 at our hospital in Audrain County”
“We hope that friends will schedule their mammograms at the same time so they can support each other. Sometimes it just takes a mom, sister or friend personally asking a woman to go with her that will make a difference.”
Participants will receive a free T-shirt and St Mary’s Hospital will offer other door prizes.
Schedule an appointment by calling 573-681-3181.