When Chrissie was told she had breast cancer, she thought “Okay, this is my time. I need a plan.” Through grace, grit and a purely positive outlook, Chrissie fought Stage 3 breast cancer head on.
When Chrissie, 51, of Center Valley, heard the words “breast cancer” from her doctor, there was no time for sadness, anger, grief or any of the other possible emotions one might experience upon hearing that kind of news. For Chrissie, calculating next steps and formulating an action plan was top of mind from that first diagnosis. After all, that is how she handles any challenge or obstacle that comes her way and her illness was no exception. And she found just the right team at St. Luke’s Cancer Center to help her overcome the monumental obstacle that had been thrown in her way – a doctor who wanted her to fight cancer just as much as she did. And with Lee Riley, MD and Chrissie teaming up, cancer didn’t stand a chance!
Chrissie had first-hand experience fighting cancer because she watched her mother suffer for over ten years with breast cancer. When her mom, who died at age 62, was diagnosed in her early 50s, Chrissie was by her side, every step of the way. During the years she suffered, Chrissie learned how to handle illness or any misfortune for that matter, with grace and grit. “My mom very much believed in bravely handling whatever comes your way in life, rather than pouting or feeling sorry for yourself,” says Chrissie. “And when I was stricken with the same disease, I knew it was how I wanted to handle it too.”
Since the heredity link to breast cancer was so strong, Chrissie was vigilant about getting regular mammograms and seeing her gynecologist for yearly office visits. Despite her dense breast tissue, which can sometimes make cancer difficult to detect, her mammograms and yearly exams all checked out. Until one visit, her doctor, Ann Freeman, DO, noticed something very wrong. “I could tell by the look on her face that she was worried,” recalls Chrissie. Dr. Freeman immediately sent her for an ultrasound and subsequent biopsy. The result was clear; Chrissie had breast cancer.
Chrissie never had any genetic testing to gauge the probability of her developing cancer, but somehow she always knew that this was her fate. In fact, when she was diagnosed, her thoughts didn’t turn to “why me?” or “how can this be happening?” She simply thought, “Okay, this is my time.”
In Chrissie’s tactical, pragmatic brain, she wanted to talk about next steps, always adamant that this disease would not steal a second of her life. Immediately, Chrissie and her husband consulted with several area oncologists, but once they met Dr. Riley, surgical oncologist and medical director of clinical integration at St. Luke’s Cancer Center, they knew their search was over. “Dr. Riley was unbelievable - he’s highly regarded for being a pioneer in his field and has this gentle nature about him, but he was also very honest with me,” says Chrissie. “He explained that my mass was large and my cancer was Stage 3, but we were going to act swiftly to combat it.” It comforted Chrissie to have experts like Dr. Riley and her medical oncologist Subhash Proothi, MD walk her through the next steps. And since the cancer was so aggressive and fast growing, the next steps included chemotherapy to shrink the tumor as much as possible, followed by a mastectomy and radiation.
Though the chemotherapy was hard on her body, she was ever mindful that it was a gift. She felt grateful for the life-saving chemo and for the doctors and nurses administering it - she repeated that idea to herself often. In addition to the radiation and chemo, Chrissie credits her husband's green smoothies, made with love and packed with vitamins and nutrients, for helping her heal. “I believe in feeding the spirit and the mind through the body,” says Chrissie. “Like Hippocrates said ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’”
Her surgery at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus was a success. “Prior to my surgery, I remember Dr. Riley showing me how he injected a dye into my lymph nodes and explained that when the dye moves quickly to the lymph nodes, it’s a very good sign,” says Chrissie. “His face lit up when he told me that he saw exactly what he was looking for - it made all the difference to see him so confident - it made me confident too.”
After all the chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, Chrissie had her very last radiation treatment on the anniversary of her mother’s death - which gave the day extra special meaning. Chrissie raves about all the personnel at Anderson campus from the doctors and nurses to the support staff - she feels they all made a very grave and serious situation as comfortable as it could be. “Amazingly, everyone made my husband and me feel welcome, like family, never like a number or a statistic,” recalls Chrissie.
Dr. Riley credits Chrissie’s positive outlook and strong will to her success. “Part of my job is to make sure my patients have a good quality of life after their diagnosis because this disease tends to play head games with patients. I spend a lot of time trying to guide and support them, make sure they are comfortable with the diagnosis and plan of action, and to also encourage them to stay positive,” says Dr. Riley. “That wasn’t such a hard task with a patient like Chrissie! She was a model patient through and through and I truly believe that was a significant component to her success.”
It’s been five years since that last radiation treatment. Chrissie is finally back to feeling like herself again, having abundant energy, practicing yoga, cooking healthy food and spending time with her first grandchild, born this summer. “The birth of my granddaughter, Scarlett, was especially meaningful having gone through what I went through,” recalls Chrissie. “Had it not been for the support and love, not only from my friends and family, but from the doctors and nurses at St. Luke’s, I would never have had the chance to meet her.”