October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to reflect on the prevalence and impact of this all-to-common disease. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. While most breast cancers are found in women 50 years old or older, the disease can also affect younger women. Women such as 39-year-old Bambi Stewart of Mont Belvieu.
The single mother of three recalls the moment when her life took an unexpected turn. “It was Thanksgiving week last year. I just noticed some swelling in my breast,” said Stewart. She immediately scheduled an appointment with her OBGYN, who first prescribed a week’s worth of antibiotics to see if the spot might be an infected duct. But, after six days of the drugs, Stewart said nothing had changed.
“That is when he sent me to the Breast Care Center at Houston Methodist Baytown with orders for imaging,” said Stewart. “The following week, I went for the mammogram and ultrasound and that’s when they found five small tumors in my breast.”
When Dr. Ana Benveniste, breast radiologist at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital, saw the tumors in Stewart’s images, she asked her staff to clear the next afternoon’s schedule for a biopsy.
“We diagnosed Bambi with stage 3C, invasive ductal carcinoma. This is the most common breast cancer and makes up about 80% of all breast cancers,” Benveniste explained.
On December 16, Stewart got the call with the diagnosis, and she was shocked. “I have no family history of cancer, and I wasn’t even supposed to get my first mammogram for another year and a half. The swelling I experienced literally showed up overnight, so I really wasn’t thinking cancer,” said Stewart.
The new year brought the beginning of Stewart’s treatment. As a single mother of three, she opted not to tell her children initially but soon realized she needed to have the incredibly tough conversation.
“Finally, I took them to their dad’s, and we sat them down together and told them. Of course, my 9-year-old and 11-year-old thought this meant I would die. I was careful not to make promises but told them that was not the plan and that we would fight. Our plan is to win,” said Stewart. “My children are the inspiration for my fight, I have to be there for them.”
Stewart’s treatment plan included 20 weeks of chemotherapy and a mastectomy. Now, she is undergoing radiation, which she will complete next month.
“I have a hysterectomy scheduled because my cancer is hormone driven, and then I will take a chemo pill for two years,” said Stewart.
Stewart has also made it her mission to educate as many people as possible about breast cancer, especially those who don’t yet qualify for a mammogram or have no family history.
“God gave me a platform to share my story because there are people out there who will face this and have no idea what they will face. I want to be that friendly face that is there to help,” said Stewart.
She also has advice for everyone, “Listen to your body. When you think something is wrong, be your own advocate and find a doctor who will listen to you and fight for you. I am thankful I had that with all of my doctors.”
Dr. Benveniste agrees, “No one knows your body better than yourself. If you notice any change in your breasts – the shape, nipple changes, palpable findings or nipple discharge, please make an appointment with your physician. If you are 40 or over, be sure to schedule your yearly mammogram; it is a single, cheap and fast study proven to save lives.”
For more information about breast cancer, visit houstonmethodist.org/cancer/breast-cancer. You can also call the Breast Care Center at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital at 346.292.7465.