Survivor Stories

Cathy Smullen

In August 2013, Cathy Smullen received notice from her mammogram screening that an area thought to be benign was detected.  However, a further comparison to her previous screening was needed.  Two days later, a second notice arrived recommending further imaging studies.  Her husband Bob became worried, for good reason as it turned out.

About 45 days after her screening, Cathy was diagnosed with stage IIIC breast cancer.  “It was horrible during that waiting time,” Bob said.

On October 14, 2013, Dr. Soder performed breast surgery, removing cancerous 30 cancerous lymph nodes from her right breast.  She then met with medical oncologist Dr. Stephen Williams, who ran further tests which brought positive news.  The cancer had not spread.  Cathy’s cancer treatment protocol called for the insertion of a port, 12 weekly cycles of chemotherapy followed by 33 radiation therapy sessions.

During her cancer treatment, Cathy’s body grew weak as did her taste sensation.

“Food tasted like cardboard,” she explained. “The only thing that tasted good were peaches. I met with CCC’s dietitian Ally Gottfried, and she helped me understand how to change my diet so that, as my appetite waned, the foods I did eat would provide the most energy to my body.

During treatment, Cathy also lost her hair.

“I knew it was coming.  My friend LaVaughn and I decided to participate in the Look Good Feel Better program at the CCC.  I was wearing a long grey wig, LaVaughn was snapping pictures and sending them to Bob.  We just had a great time.  While things are difficult, you just have to have moments of joy.  It’s important to help you keep going.

“For radiation treatment, they give you tattoos to locate the radiation treatment area.  When I told my grandchildren I had gotten some tattoos, rather than texting me they actually called me to ask what kind of tattoo I had gotten.”

After chemotherapy, and during radiation therapy, Cathy’s strength slowly began to return.  In July 2014, Cathy completed her cancer treatment.  In a follow up visit with Dr. Williams he pointed out that in her patient surveys she mentioned being tired all the time.  He detected an iron deficiency in her bloodwork and recommended transfusions.

Within two months, they had done the trick.  “I got all of my energy back and could return to the things I used to do.  I attribute this to Dr. Williams following up so closely.  That really put me on the path to full recovery,” Cathy said.