Busy mom urges women to prioritize health

TROY — Christy Lewis was too busy to have cancer. The mother of four adult children and a 10-year-old special needs son, the Bradford woman was fully immersed in family life and responsibilities when she felt a lump in her left breast while showering in March 2019.

“I thought that was not good,” she recalled.

She had her husband Shawn also feel for the lump. He suggested she see a doctor.

“I was like, ‘I don’t have a doctor, I am never sick,’” Lewis said. “I was like, ‘It is fine.’ I let it go.”

Fast forward to Dec. 22, 2019. She found another lump, this time in her right breast. It was not as large as the first lump, but noticeable.

“I thought, ‘I need a doctor,’” Lewis said.

She contacted the office of Heather Zuhl, a certified nurse practitioner with Miami County Internal Medicine, a Premier Physician Network practice in Covington, and first met with her in early January.

By Jan. 31, she’d had a biopsy and a diagnosis of bilateral invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2.

“I said, ‘You are kidding?’” Lewis said. “I was in shock. I kept saying, ‘There is no way.’ I was in denial.”

Lewis said she felt fine other than being tired but attributed that to raising a special needs child and other responsibilities.

“I didn’t think it was anything more. Then, man alive,” she said of the diagnosis.

Lewis received a port Feb. 17 and began chemotherapy Feb. 20 at the Dayton Physicians Network’s Troy office. She finished what she called “five long months” of treatment July 1.

She was a little nauseous during treatment under the care of MD Anderson Cancer Network certified physician, Rajeev Kulkarni, MD, but said she thought she handled it very well during the first eight weeks. She felt “miserable,” during the second part of treatment, gaining weight and hurting all over her body.

Lewis underwent a bilateral mastectomy Aug. 5 at UVMC with MD Anderson Cancer Network certified physician, Daniel Taylor, MD, as surgeon.

Pathology reports in late August showed she was cancer free. Lewis started radiation five days a week in September, again at Dayton Physicians Network office. She anticipates that will continue until just after her 44th birthday this fall.

Most of Lewis’ appointments and treatment came during the added precautions required by COVID-19. At the UVMC Cancer Care Center, those measures include patient scheduling designed to avoid overlap or crowding in the lobby. Masks are provided if needed and everyone is encouraged to use hand sanitizer.

The patient and one permitted visitor are screened for symptoms and escorted to the infusion room as soon as possible, said Sarah Jones, RN, nurse manager at the Cancer Care Center. All staff members are masked in patient care areas and hallways and all surfaces wiped down after each patient visit.

It is important for people, as they get older, to work with a physician and receive age appropriate cancer screenings, said Dr. Kulkarni. For example, mammogram screenings are recommended beginning at age 40.

“If you do that, we will be able to pick up a lot of cancers at the early stage. In her case (Lewis), the screening was late but not late enough to have (the cancer) spread anywhere,” Dr. Kulkarni said. “She still had the potential of being cured.”

The take-away message: “If you feel something, get help from the doctor. Don’t let things drag on,” he said.

With medical advances, success of treatment depends largely on how soon cancer can be detected, Dr. Kulkarni said, adding, “If it is detected late, we may miss the window of opportunity.”

During her treatment and surgery, a positive outlook has been key for Lewis.

“I have to be positive or I will be in a corner bawling my eyes out. I try really, really hard not to play the victim and try to be positive,” she said. “I am determined to beat this.”

In hindsight, Lewis said she should have gone to the doctor after the first lump was found.

“Even though you are busy, you have to take care of yourself, “she said. “Cancer humbles you. I have six grandkids and I want to be here.”

She has found strength in prayer.

“I am not asking to spare me. I ask Him to give me strength,” she said. “My motto with this whole thing is, ‘I am fine, everything is fine.’ If I let my guard down, I don’t think I would have done as well as I have,” Lewis said.

To schedule a screening mammogram, call 855-887-7364 Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., or Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Women without insurance coverage may be eligible for a free mammogram or other women’s health services. Call 866-838-8973 to see if you qualify.