Stories of triumph

October 2, 2012


PDT Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles about area cancer survivor and their treatment from Dr. Vincent Scarpinato.

They range in age from 38 to 91, and yet there is a thread that runs through all of their lives. They are breast cancer survivors. Eight women flanked Dr. Vincent Scarpinato in the foyer of the SOMC Cancer Center on Kinney’s Lane in Portsmouth on a Friday afternoon to talk about their ups and downs, tears of fear and tears of joy and their love for the people who have held their hands through the process of recovery.

Rebecca Mitchell, of Wheelersburg is 90, was diagnosed the year Scarpinato came to town.

“Dr. (Jeffrey) Hill sent me to him,” Mitchell said. “I had a lump and he diagnosed it. At that time there was no treatment here. He sent me to Huntington. I went five days, two times each day at the clinic up there and was treated. I got along fine. I have come along fine, no cancer, I am cancer free as of today, and I’m very thankful that I could go and have Dr. Scarpinator help me.”

So, at 90, a housewife, who has raised six children, and also is a breast cancer survivor, is Mitchell still active?

“Oh gosh yes,” Mitchell said. “I do all my house work. My daughter, a retired school teacher, lives with me, but I take care of all the washing. I do my house work, cooking and all.”

Julie Horn, who lives in Ironton and teaches at Portsmouth High School, was diagnosed when she was 39, went through a round of chemotherapy, then had genetic testing only to find out she was BRCA positive. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that belong to a class of genes known as tumor suppressors. Mutation of these genes has been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

“So I decided I was going to go ahead and have a bilaterial masectomy,” Horn said. “I’m just now finishing up the whole process. I was a little slow about going through it all. I got tired of having surgery, so I put my last surgery off for a while. My mother had breast cancer. She was diagnosed at 38, and passed away at 48. But I know my prognosis is much better with the treatment today. I’m happy to be alive. I have done wonderfully.”

Eileen Taylor is from, “Portsmouth, Ohio, born and raised.” She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2010 through a mammogram which she has done on a regular basis. It was during one of those mammograms when they located the cancer in her right breast.

“Dr. Scarpinato said that it was stage zero, and I had to have a lumpectomy and radiation treatments, and I’m doing just fine, and almost a year to the day they found it in the left breast,” Taylor said.

Has her life slowed down as a result of her bout with cancer?

“This past December I went snorkeling,” Taylor said. “My kids, all four of my adult children and their spouses, took me on a cruise. We went on a seven-day western Caribbean cruise.”

Tears of joy flowed from her eyes as she talked about her appreciation of life, her family, and those who performed her medical care.

“I’m doing really, really well with the treatment,” Taylor said. “I just had to have radiation. I didn’t have to do chemo. I thank God for that. We all hear horror stories, but I’m doing really really well. I have nothing but good things to say about everybody in Portsmouth - the Cancer Center, the doctors, the radiation, even the woman who emptied the trash - everybody was just so kind and made it so easy to go through something that was so scary.”

There was one more thing she credited with her ability to go through the treatment.

“I think Dr. Scarpinato’s sense of humor really really helps when you find out he can laugh with you and that it helps to laugh, it made it easier,” Taylor said.

Skeeter Smith of Lucasville is one of those one-of-a-kind people you meet and bond with instantly. She had the same effect on those whose care she was placed in. She was diagnosed in July of 2011, when she had just turned 50.

“I was a little shocked,” Smith said. “I had radiation and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy was for six months, and radiation was Monday through Friday for 38 treatments.”

She is currently receiving Herceptin treatment because her tumor was HER2-positive. HER2-positive breast cancer is a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which promotes the growth of cancer cells. Herceptin is given by port, and Smith will be finished with that treatment in November.

“Two days before I turned 51 I had kidney cancer,” Smith said. “It had nothing to do with my breast cancer. It was a God thing. They do all these scans on you like PET-Scans and CAT Scans, and they just barely nicked my kidney, and they said, ‘we think you’ve got a mass on your kidney,’ and I’m thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me. But the kind of radiation I had wouldn’t have killed it anyway because it’s renal-cell carcenoma. So I go back six weeks later and I have another scan, and it is cancer. So I go to Columbus and have a urologist take it out.”

In a strange twist, breast cancer saved her life because the medical staff would never have found the symptomless kidney cancer. Smith takes care of student housing at Shawnee State University, where her busy life has not missed a beat.

Scarpinato said there are some facts many people are not aware of, such as 85 percent of women who have breast cancer have no family members with a history of breast cancer. However, he was quick to add, if a woman does have family members with a history of breast cancer, they are at a higher risk.

The stories of the other four breast cancer survivors will be published in a subsequent edition of the Daily Times.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at flewis@heartlandpublications.com