As a registered nurse who cares for patients with cancer, Stephanie Rader knows a lot about the disease.
Even so, she learned so much more since being diagnosed last year with Stage 2 breast cancer.
"It's been a real eye-opener," says the 50-year-old Rader, who for the past 10 years has been the coordinator of the bone marrow transplant program at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis. "I thought I was empathetic before, but I'm much more so now."
Rader's education started when she noticed a cyst on her right breast that she and her doctor had carefully monitored for years with regular mammograms seemed to be getting bigger.
She went to Anatomi Imaging at Ridge Plaza for a mammogram and after viewing the results, the radiologist recommended an ultrasound to help determine if the spot was a tumor. Based on those results, Dr. Teresa Cusick did an in-office biopsy and then recommended that Rader have an MRI of both breasts.
The MRI detected a suspicious spot on her Rader's left breast that was in a difficult area to biopsy. Consequently, Dr. Cusick recommended that she have a double-mastectomy.
"Initially, I was really reluctant, but I'm so glad that I did because it's easier to have both sides match," Rader says.
Within a month of Rader's initial diagnosis, Dr. Cusick, along with plastic surgeon Dr. Stacy Peterson, performed her mastectomies and what would be the first of four reconstructive surgeries at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis.
"From the pre-op through to discharge, I had such exceptional care," Rader says. "Not being a surgical nurse, I didn't know what to expect, but they were really great at explaining everything to me in advance."
She was elated when her initial follow-up lab results showed no sign of cancer in the tissue surrounding the surgical site.
But three months later, Rader detected a lump on her chest wall. The cancer had returned.
Dr. David Johnson, an oncologist with Cancer Center of Kansas, recommended a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
During her four and a half months of chemotherapy, she participated in one of 15 clinical trials for breast cancer being conducted through the Wichita Clinical Community Oncology Program.
While the natural remedy to lessen fatigue during chemotherapy didn't give her an energy boost, her co-workers at the Via Christi Cancer Institute did.
They, along with other friends, came with Rader for all of her six three-hour chemotherapy sessions, wearing different party-themed hats and outfits each time.
"You have to be able to laugh no matter how bad things are and we did," says Rader.
In July, she began receiving radiation therapy at the Via Christi Cancer Center and participating in another WCCOP trial studying the effectiveness of a certain drug in reducing radiation burns.
Whether it does or not, Rader says, "I'm benefitting in my treatment from all the women who agreed to participate in clinical trials in the past, so I'm glad to have the opportunity to pay it forward."
The most difficult part of her journey has been the side effects from chemotherapy, while the best has been the loving support she's received from family, friends and co-workers.
"I'm so proud of our entire cancer team - from the physicians on our medical staff to the caregivers on the floor," says Rader. "It makes me feel good as someone who is a part of that team to see the exceptional care we provide."
Many of them will be taking part in this year's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in honor of Rader and two other breast cancer survivors working in the newly opened Via Christi Cancer Institute.
Rader, who just finished her radiation treatment and whose prognosis is good, considers herself to be among the lucky ones.
"I work with patients so much sicker than I've been," she says. "I can't complain."