Sandy's Story


Sandy Sheaffer is a wife, mother and survivor. This is her survivor story:


I was 47 years old when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. On a Sunday evening in January of 1997, I discovered a lump in my right breast by chance.  The following morning I called my family physician to schedule an appointment.  After my visit with my family doctor, he ordered an ultra sound.  It was recommended that I have a needle biopsy as a result of the ultra sound.  Needless to say I was afraid of what the biopsy might reveal.
While I was considering what course of action to take, my husband Bill, also a cancer survivor (melanoma) happened to have an appointment for a follow-up visit with his oncologist at the Washington Cancer Institute at Washington Hospital Center.  Bill shared my situation with his oncologist and the doctor immediately got on the phone with the surgeon who had operated on Bill in 1994.  I had an appointment scheduled with him within a few days and the needle biopsy was done right in his office.  As he was talking with my husband and me, he asked if I would want to use the same oncologist as Bill, if necessary.  I had feeling that he knew the mass was cancerous even before the results of the biopsy came back. At the time, I was taking an estrogen supplement for hot flashes as a result of having a hysterectomy in May of 1993.  The surgeon told me to immediately stop taking the supplement and never to take it again. 
The next several days were agonizing, to say the least, as I waited to hear the results of the needle biopsy. I was teaching school (third grade) at that time.  Bill happened to be at home for lunch when the doctor called to give my test results.  Bill called me at the school to let me know the results were in and that I was to call the doctor to find out. I called the doctor at my lunch break.  He informed me that the biopsy came back positive for breast cancer.  Looking back on it, I probably should have waited until I got home from work to call, but I was eager to know the results.  I ended up leaving school and going home because I was very upset.  While I was on the phone with my surgeon he scheduled an appointment for me immediately.  Bill and I made the trip down to the Washington Cancer Institute the next day.
            When we arrived there, an entire team of doctors was waiting to talk to us.  At first, they just talked to me.  Each one came into the exam room and shared information with me.  I met with a nutritionist, radiologist, oncologist, a registered nurse, and my surgeon. The radiologist encouraged me to try to keep as normal a routine as possible.  She had a breast cancer episode herself and worked as much as possible during her treatment. It was amazing that each one took so much individual time with me.  Then, the oncologist and my surgeon met with Bill and me. I remember my husband saying to me that he saw a different side of our oncologist during that meeting.
            My surgeon suggested three different options to me as far as my treatment.  The three options were (a) to have a lumpectomy followed by chemo, (b) to have a mastectomy or (c) take part in a research study group that involved a different approach to treatment.  The study group treatment would schedule the chemotherapy first, in an effort to shrink the tumor, followed by the lumpectomy and radiation.  We were given lots of information to consider and told to think about it over the weekend.  I was to let them know my decision by Monday.  The other thing that they suggested was not to discuss it with one another on our two hour drive home.  Well, that didn’t happen.  By the time we arrived home in Chambersburg, I knew which option I was leaning towards.  After much prayer and discussion with my family, I decided to enter the research study group.  This was not easy because I first thought was to get that lump out of me; in the study group I would actually have some or all of my chemo before my surgery.
In order to enter the study, I had to have several tests done.  I needed to have blood tests, a chest X ray, an electrocardiogram, bone scan, and MUGA scan (an X ray to evaluate how well the heart contracts).  I was then randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups.  I was assigned to the group that would have all of my chemotherapy before my surgery.  Subsequently, I underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, four of doxorubicin and cyclophamide and four of docetaxel.  Each round was to be given 21 days apart.  Since I was in a research study group, I needed to have all of my chemotherapy at the Washington Hospital Center.  I also started taking 20mg of tamoxifen the first day of my chemotherapy and continued it for five years. During my first treatment, the oncology nurse had trouble finding a vein to use.  When my oncologist came over to check on me and realized the trouble that they were having, he ordered surgery to have a port inserted before my next treatment.  My husband accompanied me on every trip to have my chemo. He was my shoulder to lean on and he was so encouraging.
I completed my chemotherapy in July of 1997, and then had to wait several weeks until my blood counts rebounded to have my surgery.  I had the lumpectomy in August and took off the first three weeks of the next school year to recover from my surgery.  After I was recovered from the surgery, I had six weeks of radiation, five treatments a week.  I was able to have this done in Chambersburg.  Fortunately, I didn’t have any negative reaction to the radiation. 
Both my husband and I found it amazing how many of our friends were willing to help us out during this time.  Our daughter Laura was in seventh grade at the time.  We had great friends who were willing to let her come home after school and stay at their house until Bill and I got back to Chambersburg from our many trips to Washington.  Also, many different friends helped us by driving me to those appointments so that Bill would not have to miss so much work.  Still further, and perhaps most important, my family and many friends were praying for me during this entire ordeal.  My trust in the Lord Jesus helped me in so many ways during this time.  I tried to keep a positive attitude as much as possible.  I am firmly convinced that your outlook plays a big part in your recovery.  When the day of my surgery finally came, I felt at peace as I underwent the surgery.  I had my faith in God and complete confidence in my surgeon.
It has now been over 14 years since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer.  I can still remember thinking, “Lord, let me live to see Laura graduate from high school.”  Not only have I seen her graduate from high school, but college, as well.  I also have seen her get married to a wonderful man in August, 2010.  Since retiring from teaching in June of 2008, my goal and my prayer continues to be cancer free.  I keep thanking the Lord that I am able to enjoy my time with family and friends.

© 2013 Cumberland Valley Breast  Care Alliance, Chambersburg, PA 17201