2017 Crusaders

Amy Armistead

Meet Amy Armistead, VanMeter. She is our 3 family we are helping this year. Amy was a Crusader back in 2011 and is back with us this year after being diagnosed as Stage 4. Here is her story.

I was first diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer (stage 2) nearly seven years ago after feeling a lump. I had a lumpectomy followed by radiation. It was a whirlwind of appointments in the midst of teaching high school math at Iowa Christian Academy (ICA), planning my wedding, and putting my home on the market. Surgery was successful with clean margins and negative lymph nodes. I finished radiation one week before my wedding. We celebrated being married, being cancer-free, and God’s provisions through it all. I was blessed through Katie’s Crusaders that fall of 2011.

After “doing my time” of five years on tamoxifen, a pill that blocks the effects of estrogen, Trey and I were excited to have children. I had felt a lump in my other breast that the doctors initially thought to be a cyst. Unfortunately, a biopsy in October 2016 indicated a new, similar, but more aggressive cancer. A PET scan showed areas of concern in the bone, and a biopsy of my lower spine confirmed that my cancer had spread. After getting the results, my husband and I cried, prayed, and then were overcome with peace.

Through my great team of doctors at Mercy, no time was wasted getting started with chemotherapy. By God’s grace, supportive family and friends, prayers of many, and a really early bedtime, I was able to keep teaching through five months of chemo (AC followed by Taxol). Westview Church friends blessed us with meals and Iowa State friends blessed us with cleaning. My ICA family bought and wore “No One FIGHTS Alone!” bracelets and blessed us with gifts through a Pink Ribbon tree. It’s difficult not to be lifted up when kindergarteners regularly tell you they have been praying for you. My husband has been a rock for me throughout all of this because he points me to The Solid Rock, Jesus Christ. My husband and my students have kept me laughing. My sister has kept everyone informed through CaringBridge and my mother-in-law has been ready and willing to come into town from Georgia and help as needed.

My ICA family surprised me with breakfast, decorations, and a t-shirt to celebrate my last day of chemo on March 10, 2016. Trey and I headed to Texas to visit my sister and her family the next week for Spring Break. Unfortunately, I got pneumonia and ended up having to extend our stay with a week in the hospital. Follow-up scans were delayed as we waited for everything to clear. In April, I had a PET scan with great results showing no evidence of cancer in the bones!

I had a lumpectomy in July and will be starting 6 weeks of radiation in early September. Surgery results were very good with clean margins and three negative lymph nodes. A recent CT scan of the chest and MRI of the brain have shown good results as well.

I am currently and indefinitely taking anastrozole, a different hormone-inhibiting pill, and I get two monthly shots to suppress ovarian function and to strengthen my bones. We will continue to monitor with scans every three to six months and pray that any lingering cancer cells are held in check. I continue to praise God and thank him for his love and provisions through all of this.

Last summer before my diagnosis, God laid the word “peace” and verses about peace on my heart and the theme verse for our school year became John 14:27. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

 

 Brook Baxter

My “Cancer” story started in November 2015. I had just started my dream job (teaching high school business) at Ankeny High School and I believe God put me at the right place at the right time. My new teaching partner had been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer the prior year and she strongly encouraged me to get my mammogram. I hadn’t had a mammogram in a few years and I wasn’t in any hurry to get the mammogram…there was no breast cancer in my family and I did my own breast checks when I thought about it.

I was shocked when they found a small abnormality in my right breast. I never felt the tumor myself. The biopsy showed cancer so off to surgeon Dr. Beck. She reassured us that it was so small and no indication of lymph node involvement that I was stage 1 and would only need surgery with maybe radiation.

During Surgery December 2015, Dr. Beck, surgeon, removed the tumor and removed 12 lymph nodes out. Over half of nodes had cancer, putting me now at Stage 2. Plus she didn’t get clear margins. I had a second surgery to get clear margins in January 2016. After the 2nd surgery, I had a breast MRI to make sure the margins were clear in my right breast surgical area this time and come to find out, there was some suspicious tissue in my left breast so when I went back for my surgical follow up with Beck, she did a couple of biopsies on my left breast and nodes. Sure enough, cancer in my left breast which automatically made me Stage 3. Every time we went to the doctor or spoke to the doctor, the news kept getting worse.

It took a long time to get in for a PET scan, (because of insurance dragging their feet) maybe February 2016? I was supposed to show the rest of my body clear, right??? It was such a little tumor. No such luck. The PET scan showed that my itty bitty spot of breast cancer had spread out to my bones, Stage 4. FOREVER!

We were so shaken that I couldn’t wait to start chemo. We requested to start chemo asap and it only took about a week after final Stage 4 diagnosis.

As for chemo, I started with the red devil combo of stuff then went to Taxol. During this, I could not go to school. I ended up in the hospital twice with almost 0 white count.

In June of 2016, I had my first clear PET scan and have had clear PET scans every three months since. (Praise God and I thank God every day that I have on this Earth with my family)

I currently take Letrozole everyday (oral pill) and get 2 shots monthly (Lupron and XGeva) . The pill and first shot is to block all hormones in my body because my cancer grows or responds to estrogen). The Xgeva rebuilds bone in Stage 4 Breast Cancer patients.

I’m not sure which one is the culprit or if they all are but I am in constant pain but I will live with pain so I can live. Pain just gets very old. I am also extra tired and struggle to make it through a work day and usually go to bed between 8:00 and 9:00 pm. I am definitely not the same mom and not the same teacher as before. I just don’t have the energy to give to everyone/everything that demands my attention.

I am very blessed. My wonderful husband of 28 years that has been my rock through all of this. Ted works full time at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and owns a small business as a professional photographer. I know it has been hard on him too.

My 22 year old son, Brandon, just graduated from Iowa State as an Electrical Engineer (2017) who is working at AgVision in Ankeny.

I also have a 20 year old special needs daughter, Ashley, that will live at home for quite a while yet. She has Prader Willi Syndrome. Ashley works part time at Child Time daycare and runs her own Doggie Daycare on the side. She is also a manager for the Ankeny Hawkettte basketball team.

I am also blessed with my extended family, my school family and so many friends that supported me. Just knowing they were praying for me helped give me some peace of mind.

I don’t think my life will ever be the same. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about cancer. I asked the same question to my husband not long ago and he, too, cannot go a day without thinking about cancer.

As for what we would use the funds for, we will use it for continued medical expenses and medication. We would also like to set some aside for a small family vacation.

 

 Shelia McGoldrick

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on December 14, 2015, after finding a lump in my right breast a few weeks prior. We started on our journey of doctor appointments, mammograms, ultrasounds, an MRI and finally a biopsy that confirmed our worst fear. I was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma. I had three tumors in my right breast and the cancer had spread to a sentinel node under my right arm.

We had cancer. This was OUR journey. Cancer may have been growing in my body, however, it affected my family – myself, my husband and our two daughters. We had cancer and we fought this fight together.

My treatment started with 16 rounds of chemotherapy over the course of 20 weeks. My first 4 treatments were the most intense chemo, AC, or otherwise known as “the red devil”. The remaining 12 were treatments of Taxol and Herceptin. Each treatment had its own not so pleasant side effects to deal with and even on my bad days, I counted my blessings, knowing it could be a lot worse. Not once did I walk into the Chemo Center by myself or sit alone during treatment. My husband was always by my side and the support from friends and family far exceeded anything that I expected.

I was happy to have a little bit of a break with doctors appointments and visits to John Stoddard Cancer Center once I finished chemo. At the end of June 2016, I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. In addition to removing the breast tissue, they removed a total of 13 lymph nodes. I remember the appointment with my oncologist a few weeks after that surgery where he reviewed the pathology report with us. He said there was no evidence of cancer – the best news we had heard in months!

There were weekly visits to the plastic surgeon’s office for the two months following that surgery and I had the final stage of my reconstruction, the expander to implant surgery, in November. Because I was HER2 positive, I had to continue to receive Herceptin treatments every three weeks until February 2017. I had my infusaport removed shortly after that and finally felt like a significant part of our journey was over. I know that there will be follow up appointments, scans, and tests in the future and I’m currently seeing a therapist for lymphedema, but having support from those around us makes this journey a little more bearable.

I feel truly blessed to have been nominated and chosen as a Crusader this year.