By Jessica Sly, Communications Specialist
In October of last year, at the age of 44, Stephanie Sellin saw and felt a lump in her breast. She went to Tri-County Health Care straight away for a mammogram. The findings prompted further testing.
In November, David Kloss, M.D., FACS, performed a minimally invasive breast biopsy. A couple days later, the hospital called and told Stephanie the news. It was positive for cancer.
“I kind of had a feeling,” Stephanie said. “There’s no history in my family, so it was kind of a shock. There were no symptoms. I didn’t feel sick.”
Stephanie’s husband, DJ, stepped confidently into the role of her support system, keeping her spirits up, providing refreshing laughter and giving her a familiar hand to hold. Stephanie noted that their three children, Madisyn, Rachel and Alex, were scared at first but that they handled the situation well.
As Stephanie faced her diagnosis, she tried to cope with the reality that she may have passed the breast cancer gene on to her girls.
“Right away, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve cursed them,’” Stephanie said. “That was probably one of the hardest parts. I didn’t really think about me. It was more, what about my girls?”
Stephanie went in for genetic testing with her oncologist at TCHC, Wade Swenson, M.D., and much to her relief, she found that it wasn’t hereditary.
With that question cleared, Stephanie underwent a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and then had one more test to determine if she needed chemotherapy. The results indicated her recurrence rate might be higher, so under Dr. Swenson’s care, Stephanie began chemotherapy. She needed four treatments, each spaced three weeks apart.
Displaying an unwavering positive attitude, Stephanie faced the treatment head-on, reveling in the family-like atmosphere at TCHC and the compassionate nurses who gave her heartfelt care.
“Everybody’s awesome, fun, and makes jokes, and it’s not serious,” she said. “We’re laughing and joking and having fun. It feels like everybody’s family. I love it.”
During chemo, however, one of Stephanie’s struggles was saying goodbye to her long hair.
“That was one of the hard parts,” she said. “My hair was down to my butt, and it was really curly. I cried once and then said, ‘Let’s just cut it.’”
Stephanie eased into the transition with a few haircuts. To start, she styled her hair into three braids and let each of her kids cut one off to keep. Then she went to a hairdresser to get it cut further. Once she started chemo, she decided to buzz it all off at home. Her husband also shaved his head.
“We couldn’t talk any of the kids into it,” she said with a laugh.
Patients of TCHC cancer care receive free wig fittings and wigs in Fergus Falls. Stephanie selected a wig and purchased an assortment of cute hats, but she soon grew accustomed to going without.
Stephanie completed chemotherapy on March 20, the day before her wedding anniversary, so she and DJ celebrated with a special day out.
Following chemo, she began radiation treatment with Dr. Swenson in Fergus Falls every day for four weeks. She completed radiation on May 22.
The experience opened Stephanie’s eyes to the importance of family, finding laughter in the face of adversity, and being proactive with health screenings.
“(Women should) make sure they get their mammograms and find cancer early,” Stephanie urged. “It is very important. It is treatable.”
For more information about TCHC’s cancer care program, call 218-631-7461 or visit TCHC.org/cancercare.