One minute, life goes on, mundane and safe.
“All of a sudden, life change(s),” according to Stephanie Miller.
That moment occurred she underwent a routine 3D mammogram last winter.
She didn’t know how, she said, or couldn’t say why, but she instinctively knew the results from this particular mammogram would be different from all the others before it.
“When I had to keep going back, the doctors kept saying, ‘We’re doing more tests,’” she said. “I just said to myself, ‘This is not going to change.’ I just knew.”
Finally given her diagnosis — triple-positive breast cancer, with the cancer feeding off both hormones and proteins — she faced the cancer, she said, with a brave nod of her head. Unlike some in her position, Miller didn’t have an emotional “Why me?” moment.
In a way, a friend’s journey long ago had mentally prepared her for what lay ahead.
“My dear friend died of breast cancer five years ago, so I went through that with her,” Miller said of her friend, Stephanie Wilson. The moment she was given the diagnosis, “I thought of her, and I felt all these emotions come back. That was what was very emotional to me. ... AndI told myself, ‘OK, she showed me how to do it. Now I need to go down the path like she would want me to.’”
On March 1, Miller posted on her Facebook page that she would be signing off from social media for a while, needing to focus “110%” in “trusting the process” that included double mastectomy surgery in early March and chemotherapy treatments to follow, “because I wanted it all out right then and there,” she said.
Her Mercy Hospital Joplin doctors included David Joseph Gray, Kenneth Watts and Rita Glaze, a breast cancer nurse navigator.
“My family and I will be OK,” Miller wrote in the same Facebook post. “I will tell you what gives me the most anxiety — it is reading and learning of the alarming statistics and realizing all of our kids (daughters and sons) that may have to face this crappy diagnosis — 1 in 8 women,” referring to the statistic about who will develop cancer in their lifetime. “That is not OK.”
While some agonize over treatment and surgical options, Miller said there was no hesitancy on her part.
“Everything just felt right to me, so I didn’t get a lot of second opinions,” Miller said. “I felt like I didn’t need to. I just felt great about it. You don’t mess with a lady’s gut feeling. I think there’s something to be said for that.”
Following her surgery and recovery, as well as a full hysterectomy in July, she sat through six chemotherapy cycles that began on April Fool’s Day and ended in mid-July with a bell-ringing ceremony announcing her final chemo treatment. In a video posted to her Facebook page, she closes her eyes and vigorously rings the bell before throwing up her arms in celebration.
She began her second round of chemo in August; it should wrap up next spring.
A wellness entrepreneur who adores CrossFit, Miller was back to participating in scaled exercise workouts by late March. On Sept. 10, she was free of any weight restrictions or heart-rate restrictions at her gym. She called it a “good day” on her Facebook page.
“That’s how, I think, my chemo was manageable — a lot of it by (physically and) mentally sweating it out,” she said. To that end, on her Facebook post dated April 7, she wrote: “I’ve figured out how this works. You put in poison. You get out poison. You kill cancer. It’s really not complicated.”
She and her husband, Randy, own Crazy Llama Coffee in Webb City, which opened last year at 1206 W. MacArthur Drive. Randy manages the day-to-day operations. Before that, they both served as nuclear engineers with the U.S. Navy, she for five years, he for seven. Today, she works at Webb City High School.
They are the proud parents of two daughters, Corinne and Chloe, and a son, Carson.
A sisterhood now exists between her and all other cancer survivors out there, she said.
“When someone has chemo, you can look at them and you can tell in their eyes” what each has gone through — “you don’t have to say anything,” Miller said. “There’s a conversation, unspoken, going on.”
Advice for others
If Stephanie Miller had to give three points of advice to a cancer patient, they would be:
1. “Never say no. If offered anything, accept it. No matter what it is.”
2. “Make sure you use all resources available — locally, (cancer) foundations, hospitals, because there are things you will need to know about that you don’t know you’ll need to know about.”
3. “Put yourself 100% first because you have no time for anything else. You do whatever you need to do. Be completely selfish.”