Stacy Steck’s mother, Susan, fought and survived breast cancer twice; once in 1998 and once in 2018.
On the day of her mother’s last treatment in July 2018, Stacy Steck would be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I had been having what I didn’t know were symptoms for about two months—just bloated and feeling icky all the time, I was more tired and I started having coughing fits during the night,” Steck said.
She had to be rushed to the hospital that July due to her lungs being filled with liquid. After her lungs were drained, they filled back up immediately so Steck was admitted to the hospital.
Steck remembers getting the news that cancer was the cause of her health problems.
“They tested the fluid that refilled and they were like, ‘Yeah, it’s cancer,’” Steck said. “‘We’re pretty sure it’s spread all over your body and we don’t know how much longer you have to live.’ They told me it would be about six months and they’d try to prolong that as much as they could. I had tumors on my colon, stomach, bladder and—of course—all over my reproductive system.”
Steck said the doctors asked if she would like to get a second opinion from the cancer center at UAB, which she agreed to do. There, she was given better news.
“So I went by ambulance to UAB and met with Dr. Leath there and he said, ’Oh no, we’ve got this; we can do this,’” Steck said. “And so I immediately started the treatment course that he recommended.”
Steck went through multiple surgeries including a hysterectomy and oophorectomy to remove all the tumors throughout her body.
Steck said that her mother served as inspiration to her, her husband and her kids during that time.
“We (Steck and her family) could all look at my mom and go, ‘Well cancer is something you beat,’” Steck said. “That’s the only person they’ve (her kids) known with cancer and the only person (with cancer) that I’ve ever had a really personal relationship with is my mom and she’s beat it twice. I never want my mom to have cancer but she was such an inspiration to the rest of my family dealing with my sickness.”
She said her mother helped her in other ways as well as she went through her chemotherapy treatments.
“My mom is just such a positive person,” Steck said. “It was great when I was going through my treatments to be able to say, ‘Hey, did this happen to you?’ or ‘Did you notice this? She really helped me give myself permission to be sick but also keep a positive attitude about it.”
Steck received chemotherapy treatment until January 2019 and now takes an oral chemotherapy treatment, which will last until January 2021.
Near the end of her treatments, Steck talked to doctors at UAB about a proactive mastectomy.
Steck’s mother took a BRCA test during her last treatment and Steck took the test as well. The test looks for a mutation in the genes of the person being tested. If that mutation is found, the person being tested has a higher chance of contracting breast and/or ovarian cancer, according to Steck.
“There are certain most female cancers are caused by this particular mutation,” Steck said. “The way my doctor described it me was that she (Steck’s mother) had the big one (mutation) so they went through each and every one of her genes and went, ‘Oops there it is.’ So all they had to do was go to that gene in my test to see if that’s the gene that was mutated. What that did for me was help them know how to treat it—to know what kind of (ovarian) cancer it was because the treatments can be a little different for all the different kinds of cancers.”
Steck said that her family history of breast and ovarian cancer along with her gene mutation and that she had contracted ovarian cancer gave her an 85 percent chance of contracting breast cancer in her lifetime.
In September of 2019, Steck decided to have a double mastectomy to reduce that chance down to 25 percent.
Steck said she’s happy she had the test and would recommend anyone with a family history of ovarian or breast cancer to take it as well.
“There is no other test for the ovarian cancer,” Steck said. “You literally have to wait until you have the cancer. It’s not like breast cancer where early dedication can save you, ovarian cancer just happens to you immediately. But if you’ve got the BRCA testing done you know that the cancer is a possibility and can start looking for the symptoms earlier.”
Steck said that the BRCA test can put things into perspective for younger people who don’t worry about contracting breast cancer.
“They say you should get a mammogram yearly over 40 (and) the average age with someone to contract breast cancer with the BRCA mutation is like 42,” Steck said. “I didn’t think about getting my monthly or my annual test before now because I was so young, but had I known that I had the mutation that could possibly cause me to have cancer very young I think I would have acted sooner.”
She said the mutation can affect men as well as women.
“If they (Steck’s sons) have the mutation, it greatly increases their risk of breast cancer as well,” Steck said. “(Breast cancer) is not very common among men but is common for men who have the BRCA mutation and they can pass it on to their kids.”
Steck offered some advice for those battling cancer.
“Keep a positive attitude about it but at the same time allow yourself to work through the emotions and take the time to heal and rest and be patient with the process,” Steck said. “It takes a long time to get better.”