Everything Was Normal – Until It Wasn’t

By Lisa Nickchen, Editorial Contributor

She was busy with work and her family, and now the imaging center was calling just as she was heading to Savannah for a well-earned vacation. So Angie Stapleton did what most overbooked, working mothers do. She waited to call back.

But the imaging center kept calling. After she returned from her trip, several more missed calls were waiting for her. When she called their office, Stapleton learned they

had seen something suspicious on her mammogram and wanted her to have additional imaging. She was sure it was nothing, and her initial response was, “I really don’t have the time for this.” But they insisted.

As she waited on the phone, worrying about how she would fit an appointment into her busy schedule, she thought about her good friend who had passed away from cancer a few years earlier. “I don’t know if she came down from heaven and popped me on the head or what,” recalls Stapleton, “but I decided ‘Just get it over with so these people will stop calling you.’ ”

Her Diagnosis

Additional mammography and an ultrasound revealed Stapleton, who was 41 at the time, had a mass in her breast. She was in disbelief, but a biopsy the next week confirmed she had breast cancer.

Stapleton was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which typically is treated with a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The order and duration of the treatments are based on the tumor size and stage.

“Triple-negative is an aggressive cancer,” says Dr. Regan Rostorfer, a breast cancer specialist with Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center and Stapleton’s oncologist. “So, I like to fight it aggressively.”

Together, Dr. Rostorfer and surgeon Dr. Marc Demers determined that Stapleton would be best treated with chemotherapy first, followed by a lumpectomy. Within three weeks of being diagnosed, Stapleton began her chemotherapy. While she was undergoing treatment, Dr. Rostorfer recommended genetic testing.

What Genetic Testing Revealed

“She was only 41,” says Dr. Rostorfer. “I needed to know why Angie had such an aggressive cancer at such a young age.”

Stapleton tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. That, together with her cancer being triple negative, changed Dr. Rostorfer’s recommendation to a double mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy as Stapleton’s best option. She had her last chemo treatment on November 29, 2018, and a few weeks later, underwent a double mastectomy.

Because her lymph nodes were clear, plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Klein came in right after Dr. Demers to begin the breast reconstruction process, putting in the expanders and drains.

A Worrier Finds Support

Stapleton describes herself as a worrier. But she remembers that what always stood out throughout her journey was how the doctors and nurses said “we,” not “you,” when they talked with her. So instead of feeling alone, she always felt supported by a team fighting alongside her.

She also worried about taking care of her two teens. As it turned out, they chose an active role in Stapleton’s journey, and ended up taking good care of her, too.

Now, she’s preparing for the next step of breast reconstruction, grateful for all the care and support she has received, and looking forward to the future with her family.

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