Survivors tell their tales

John Stegeman, PDT Sports Editor

October 4, 2012


PDT Staff Writer

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

With wide ranging stories and backgrounds, the common trait of being breast cancer survivors united eight women with Dr. Vincent Scarpinato in the foyer of the SOMC Cancer Center in Portsmouht on Friday.

Betty Morgan of Stout, Ohio, is 81 and a self-described “country girl.” She was diagnosed last June.

“I had just had my yearly mammography, and at that time they called in the radiologist. He checked it. For there I had a biopsy, and Dr. Scarpinato felt certain that it was contained there, and I could do the five-step program,” Morgan said. “But when he operated he realized that that was not going to be.”

She falls into a group with fibro-cystic disease in her breast.

“So in a year’s time it changed and they got right on top of it, and it was very small, and he (Scarpinato) gave me the treatment that worked for me,” Morgan said. “The way I was treated by Dr. Scarpinato and his staff was wonderful. I have been a volunteer here since it opened, so I knew exactly what was going to transpire. I could see the patients and how they reacted, so I wasn’t surprised at all, but from the benefits I have derived from being here and being treated here, I have been able to help other women, with what we call ‘our journey.’”

Morgan said compassion by doctors and their staff goes a long way toward successful treatment and care.

“Compassion and attitude are even above what the doctors ability is to take the cancer out, because you do need that,” Morgan said.

Dada Haws, at 91, is the oldest member of the group. She is originally from the border of Canada, but has lived in Portsmouth for 60 years. She was diagnosed after her last mammogram about a month ago.

“I have mammograms every year, and nothing showed last year,” Haws said. “But something showed this year. So Dr. Patel, my medical doctor, recommended Dr. Scarpinato. He is taking care of me. He did surgery on me and something went wrong with my heart during surgery, and I have a heart doctor. I did the surgery, and the surgery over with, I didn’t even know I had heart trouble. But all my kids were home and my grandchildren for the surgery, and they think the world of Dr. Scarpinato.”

One of the best known citizens of Scioto County is the head coach of the women’s basketball team at SSU, Robin Hagen-Smith, whose teams have put the athletic department at the university on the map. She was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.

“I just had a routine mammogram scheduled, and that is really what saved me. That’s how they found it,” Hagen-Smith said. “Mammograms are good health routines. They’re part of taking good care of yourself. It’s vital because a lot of times these things aren’t detected any other way. So the mammogram has saved many lives. It’s definitely important to get those on a regular basis.”

Hagen-Smith had radiation treatment for six months during her very busy basketball season.

“Dr. Scarpinato and Dr. (Li-Fen) Chang were awesome,” Hagen-Smith said. “They made sure that I was able to get treated here and continue teaching and coaching. The basketball was such a great distraction for me. I just kept on doing the things I always did, and really it helped me get through that time. It was tough, but they were all wonderful here at SOMC. We’re fortunate that we have this treatment and all of these things here in this area at SOMC.”

Melyssa Shannon, at 38, is the youngster of the group. She is from Lucasville, now lives in Portsmouth, and is the elementary guidance counselor at Northwest. She was diagnosed in November of 2008.

“I had just given birth in September to my little boy,” Shannon said. “I had a double mastectomy and my ovaries removed because I was BRCA1 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.

“I started chemo in January and finished chemo April 15 of the following year,” Shannon said. “All the time my little boy was an infant.”

After going through all of the treatments while being a new mother, Shannon now believes she has come through it all. Melyssa is one of those people with a heart-warming smile and a very open attitude. She expresses herself in a way few people do.

“I am most definitely 100 percent, because I had the most amazing husband in the whole wide world to help raise my baby, and my mom was wonderful, ” Shannon said. At the time she was working at Sciotoville Community School and said she also had the best colleagues.

“I think that through all of that I wasn’t the one who had to be strong. It was everyone around me who was strong and got me through that, because I think they hurt just as much as I did - probably more,” Shannon said. “Now I have a lively, vibrant, three-year-old who keeps me active. And I feel healthy as a horse, and I’m happy and fulfilled. He (her child) along with my husband, are my blessings.”

She, like the others praised the care of Dr. Scarpinato.

“Dr. Scarpinato was my constant,” Shannon said. “I had several different doctors. There was a lot of transition here in Portsmouth, with oncologists at the time, but Dr. Scarpinato was my constant, and I feel like he is part of my family as well. The care here was great. The nurses were amazing. They were wonderful.”

Scarpinato sung the praises of modern screening.

“The way I believe in 2012, all breast cancer should be diagnosed by a mammographic abnormality,” Scarpinato said. “So it should be a little spot on the picture. It shouldn’t be a large lump that the patient feels. But sometimes that happens. Sometimes you’re pregnant and you don’t know that because everything’s lumpy, so the use of mammography is tried and true. Since the ’50s of really being the best part of our armamentarium that helps us as surgeons and oncologists to detect cancer at a Stage 1 phase if you’re lucky. I can’t say enough about getting that routine screening.”

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.

“We tell women get your first mammogram at 35, and then, 40-on, get them yearly,” Scarpinato said. “If there’s a tiny spot there we want to make a diagnosis at an early stage and be able to intervene without having to remove the whole breast if we don’t have to. And if we can do this without chemotherapy and without a complete mastectomy, I think that has come so far from how I was trained. Nearly 100 percent of women, when I was an intern, had mastectomies, even for small cancers. So now we have great techniques to make a diagnosis before going to the operating room, and plan one stage operations.”

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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