Breast cancer hasn’t stopped woman from doing what she loves
photo by: Earl Richardson/LMH Health
Amy Thompson was set to have the best year of her life. She had an interview for her dream job on the horizon, hopes of travel and she was in the best physical shape of her life. So when she found a lump on her breast in March 2023, everything stood still.
“Within two days of finding the lump, I had an appointment scheduled with my primary care doctor,” Thompson said. “They moved quickly and had me into a specialist and a diagnosis within seven days.”
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer for women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 240,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Thompson was diagnosed with a localized stage one invasive ductal carcinoma with triple positive markers. This meant that the cancer had not spread to different areas of her body, but it was causing an excess production of estrogen, progesterone and HR2 hormones.
“Roughly 75% of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma and 10%-15% of it has an overexpression of the HR2 hormone,” said Dr. Luke Huerter, LMH Health Cancer Center oncologist. “It is very treatable when caught early, and the HR2 marker just changed our treatment plan to include a round of chemotherapy before surgery.”
Receiving her breast cancer diagnosis did not slow Thompson down. While she was waiting for her results, she went ahead and interviewed for her dream job working in environmental science.
“Soon after receiving my diagnosis, I received a call with a job offer,” Thompson said. “I let them know about my situation and agreed to take the position after I completed chemotherapy.”
Symptoms and screenings
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. The risk of having breast cancer increases if the person has a family history of cancer.
If your family has a history of cancer, it is a good idea to work with your primary care provider to create a plan for early screenings and test to detect any abnormalities. If you do not have a family history, it is wise to follow guidelines for getting mammograms and breast exams from a medical professional.
Knowing the symptoms of breast cancer can help you detect it early. Regular self-exams can catch the following symptoms at home:
• A palpable mass
• Skin color changes or reddening of skin
• Skin dimpling around and on the breast
• Pain or retraction of the nipple
• Discharge from the nipple
• Thickening of the nipple
• Lump or swelling in the armpit region
Huerter said breast cancer is very treatable, and the majority of patients with early-stage breast cancer will be cured.
From discovery to diagnosis and treatment, Thompson has been able to receive all of her care within the LMH Health system.
“Everything happened so fast once the lump was discovered,” Thompson said. “The appointments just kept popping up, and it never occurred to me to look elsewhere. I have been very satisfied with all of my treatment at LMH so there was never a reason to seek other facilities.”
Through the LMH Health Cancer Center, Thompson was able to access her nutritionist, social worker, nurse navigator, oncologist, surgeon, plastic surgeon and more while staying in the comfort of her hometown.
Huerter said one advantage of the cancer center is its smaller size.
“We have a smaller staff than you would encounter at a larger treatment facility. So you are going to see the same treatment nurse, lab tech and other staff every time,” Huerter said. “We get to know our patients and the quality of life they want to maintain, which allows them to be more comfortable and increase the ease of treatment.”
Thompson has officially completed chemotherapy and is now preparing for surgery. If her surgery reveals that there are no cancer cells present, she will be able to move on to immunotherapy and return to life as she knew it before her diagnosis.
Strong family support
Thompson always knew that her risk of having cancer was higher.
“Cancer runs in my family, so I always knew there was a chance I would have it,” she said. “I’ve always hoarded my PTO and joked that I would need it in case I got into a bike accident, due to the fact I like to bike everywhere, or got cancer.”
On the maternal side of Thompson’s family, multiple family members had been diagnosed with cancer. It started with her grandmother dying from colon cancer, her mother beating thyroid cancer and most of her mother’s eight siblings receiving their own cancer diagnoses.
Due to her family’s history and their experience working in the medical field, Thompson knew that they would rally behind her. She would never have to go to appointments or treatments alone.
“My aunt, who survived breast cancer, is a physician and a few others, including my mother, are nurses,” Thompson said. “They have helped me understand the medical information and they have comforted me through the process. If there was an issue with my care, one of them would have picked it up.”
Backed by her family and ready to tackle the challenge head-on, Thompson set out to continue living her life and pursuing her dreams.
Continuing to do what she loves
Even with a cancer diagnosis, Thompson refused to let her lifestyle change. She decided to focus on maintaining her routine and keeping her spirits high.
“Thompson seemed to be more physically and mentally disciplined than any patient I’ve seen,” Huerter said. “She was determined to approach her cancer diagnosis fearlessly and has maintained a healthy and active lifestyle throughout her diagnosis and treatment.”
In her spare time, Thompson enjoys biking, running, foraging for wild plants — and her most recent hobby, silks, a performance of aerial acrobatics while hanging from a piece of fabric. She took up silks at Inspired Aerial Arts in 2021 as a way to physically challenge herself. She quickly fell in love with the art form and went to classes three times a week.
“I did a performance in late February before I was diagnosed,” Thompson said. “I felt confident and like my body could do anything. It was surreal to be in a place where my body was doing things I never knew it could do and have cancer.”
Thompson entered treatment with the goal to keep doing what she loved through self-care, discipline and the medical guidance of her doctors.
“Since the diagnosis, my life has completely revolved around cancer,” said Thompson. “I try not to let it consume my life, but I feel like my body is not mine anymore. I try to do as much as I can do myself, to do as many as the activities I used to in order to retain some sense of normalcy.”
Thompson used her diagnosis to help educate her friends, family and aerial class about breast cancer. She knew there would be a statistical likelihood that someone else in her circle would have cancer, and she allowed others to feel the lump in her breast so that they would know what to look for.
“It’s been a very vulnerable process,” Thompson said. “I’ve been surrounded by people who are here to help me. It’s challenged me to be more vulnerable with my loved ones and accept help when I need it.”
Breast cancer has not stopped Thompson from doing what she loves. At least once a week, she goes to her silks class. She often goes on short walks or bike rides with her dad as well. Since she is not able to forage as much as she would like, her friends have stepped up and helped forage for her or given her their excess.
“It’s hard to remember all the things they have done for me,” said Thompson. “Everyone in every aspect of my life has helped me in such beautiful and creative ways. I wouldn’t have known what help I would have needed, but someone has always been there.”
Chemotherapy has not been without its challenges. It has not only been an emotional journey but also a physically exhausting one. One thing that devastated Thompson the most was seeing how much less her body is able to physically do. Even still, Thompson has performed her aerial arts routine four times since receiving her diagnosis and has more planned for the future.
“Chemotherapy has made my body weaker, but it has not stopped me from doing what I love,” she said.
Although Thompson’s road to recovery is not finished, she and the LMH Health Cancer Center team are optimistic about her future and diagnosis.
“She has been a rock star throughout this and brings life into the clinic,” Huerter said. “It has been an honor to take care of her.”
— Kade Han is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.