In many cases, breast cancer symptoms often include a lump that develops in the breast, which is either found through monthly self-exam, a physician exam, or an annual mammogram. However, approximately one in six women with breast cancer present with symptoms other than a breast lump, such as nipple abnormalities, unusual breast pain, back pain, and unexplained weight loss.
“For some women with non-lump breast symptoms, they don’t recognize that these could be signs of breast cancer,” said Atif Shafqat, MD, an oncologist at Missouri Baptist Cancer Center and Parkland Health Center. “And unfortunately, they often delay seeking medical attention, which then gives the cancer time to spread.”
For Stacy Scurlock, 40, of Farmington, she never suspected that she had breast cancer. She had none of the typical symptoms, such as a noticeable breast lump. And being 39 years old at the time, she hadn’t even undergone her first mammogram. In hindsight, the one thing Scurlock recalls that was a bit unusual was an inverted nipple in her left breast.
“It never dawned on me that an inverted nipple might be a sign of breast cancer,” said Scurlock. “The only medical issues I had been dealing with was parathyroid disease and fatty liver, which I was managing.”
Then, in April 2022, Scurlock had a routine appointment with her primary doctor, who wanted to do some bloodwork to check her calcium levels. Those results came back showing elevated liver enzymes, so an ultrasound was ordered, which also indicated some abnormalities. Scurlock was referred to Rafael Figueroa, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon at Parkland Health Center, for a CT scan, which showed lesions all over her liver. Dr. Figueroa had to deliver the difficult news: Scurlock had cancer, which could be seen in her liver.
“I was absolutely stunned and I shut down immediately,” said Scurlock. “I don’t think I heard anything he said after he uttered the word ‘cancer.’ I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. After all, I was young and had no symptoms.”
Dr. Figueroa then recommended that Scurlock undergo a colonoscopy, endoscopy, and mammogram.
“I suspected that Stacy’s liver cancer originated elsewhere – either in the colon, gastrointestinal tract, or breast – before it ultimately metastasized, or spread, to the liver,” said Dr. Figueroa. “Most patients don’t just present with cancer in their liver that way, so we needed to do additional diagnostic testing to pinpoint where it started.”
Scurlock’s colonoscopy and endoscopy came back clean; however, her mammogram indicated some abnormalities. A diagnostic mammogram at Parkland Health Center followed by a breast biopsy confirmed Dr. Figueroa’s suspicion. Scurlock had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma).
Scurlock then met with Paul Yazdi, MD, a breast surgeon at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, and Dr. Shafqat at Parkland Health Center, to discuss her breast cancer treatment plan.
“Stacy has a special subtype of breast cancer, which can be very responsive and can have durable benefits to therapy,” said Dr. Shafqat. “The molecular details of the cancer are very important these days and determine how we manage the disease from both prognosis and treatment perspectives. Indeed, Stacy had an exceptional response to treatment within weeks of starting her treatment regimen.”
Scurlock’s medical team wasted no time starting her treatment plan. On May 31, 2022, she had a port placed, so she could start chemotherapy combined with targeted biological treatments the following day with her first infusion at Parkland’s Cancer Center. Scurlock chose to undergo her cancer treatment at Parkland Health Center since it’s close to her home. She also appreciates the close-knit environment amongst the staff and patients, and how Dr. Shafqat and the nurses treat her with so much compassion.
“I love all of my nurses, especially Pam, Mendy, Haley, and Robin, who take such good care of me,” said Scurlock. “You can tell they genuinely care and love their jobs. They have hearts of gold. It’s a wonderful thing that there are nurses like them who want to do this job, because it’s got to be hard to take care of people like me who are so sick.”
Scurlock’s nurses adore her just as much and look forward to seeing her every three weeks for her chemo infusion sessions.
“Stacy is an exceptional person who exudes positivity from the moment she walks through our doors,” said Haley Wulfers, RN, BSN, one of Scurlock’s nurses at Parkland’s Cancer Center. “Despite having a cancer diagnosis and some unfortunate side effects from chemotherapy, she always has a smile on her face and an upbeat attitude. We hate the reason why Stacy comes to see us, but we’ve really enjoyed getting to know her.”
Initially, Scurlock battled some unpleasant side effects from her chemo treatments, including hair loss, mouth sores, chemo nails, breakouts, dehydration, muscle aches, and fatigue. Fortunately, with some adjustments of her chemotherapy and the addition of supportive care, she is better managing these side effects. Of course, it’s been a battle mentally as well.
“It’s hard, and I do have mental breakdowns from time to time,” said Scurlock. “I’ve told several people that if it weren’t for my daughters, I don’t know if I could do it. But I’ve made it this far, and I’m so close to my last chemo session before starting my maintenance therapy. For now, I’m focused on ringing that bell with my daughters.”
Scurlock’s final infusion is scheduled for later this fall, pending the results of her next scan. That’s when she gets to ring the bell, signaling the end of her chemotherapy cancer treatment and the beginning of her maintenance therapy. She’s counting down the days. In the meantime, she’s also reflecting on some of the blessings she’s encountered on this unexpected and challenging breast cancer journey.
“I’m truly blessed. My daughters and my medical team have been amazing,” said Scurlock. “I work for our local Domino’s Pizza, and my bosses have been incredible, keeping me on payroll even though I can’t work right now. Both of my bosses check on me constantly and lift me up whenever I get down. I’ll be forever grateful for all the ways – big and little – they’ve cared for me.”
To schedule your mammogram at Parkland Health Center, please call 573-760-8460.