In March 2022, Stephanie Hargis felt a lump in her right breast. “I went to the doctor, but I really thought, along with the nurses and doctors, that it was just a swollen lymph node,” Stephanie said. Breast cancer didn’t cross her mind. “The lump was painful, but I don’t have a family history and I was only 25.”
Stephanie had a mammogram, followed by a biopsy. The news was devastating. She had stage 2 triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma. The mother of a young daughter, she was finishing up her last year of her bachelor’s degree in social work. It didn’t cross her mind to defer school while she underwent treatment. “I stayed in school, because I knew I could use that as a distraction,” she said.
Treatment got off to a rocky start. Stephanie had a double mastectomy and, two days after surgery, she was back in the hospital because of a collapsed lung. “I had genetic testing and the results showed I was positive for a gene mutation,” Stephanie said. “I remember feeling like I was defective in some way, because no one else in my family had cancer.”
Stephanie started chemotherapy in June and finished on Halloween. That December, she reached another milestone, graduating magna cum laude from college. As life steered toward feeling somewhat normal again, she continued scans and follow-up.
And in April 2023, she heard news she had dreaded – the cancer was back. She underwent surgery, during which 12 lymph nodes were removed. It was a relief to find the cancer had not spread to them. And in June, a year to the day she started treatment the previous year, Stephanie began chemotherapy and immunotherapy. She also received physical therapy on her arm to help regain strength and motion after her surgery.
“I have a couple more treatments left of chemo before starting a month of radiation. Once I complete radiation, I will do more immunotherapy as maintenance and hopefully be done some time next year,” Stephanie said. Over the summer, she started a master’s in social work program. It’s kept her occupied and not focused on breast cancer. “This experience has been full of ups and downs, but I feel blessed to still be here today fighting and pushing through.”
Stephanie draws strength from her family, especially her husband, 3-year-old daughter and her parents. “I want to make all of them proud of me and what I accomplish,” she said. “Whether it’s going in treatment with a positive mindset or still attending school despite being in treatment again.”
She also finds strength in reading the stories of others. “Seeing women who have overcome breast cancer and are living their life to the fullest brings me joy. I know one day I will be there and maybe someone will feel motivated and supported through my story,” she said. “It’s important to spread awareness to help younger people be more active in their health. Unfortunately, younger women also get breast cancer. I know how scary it can be to hear the words ‘you have cancer,’ but getting detected early can save your life.”
Breast cancer has changed Stephanie’s outlook on life. “Now I really don’t take any moment for granted. I view myself as unstoppable and work hard to reach the goals I set for myself,” she said. “I would tell someone who has just been diagnosed that you have to live your life to the max and reach your goals. Don’t let cancer stop you. Find one good thing in every little moment and focus on that to get through the bad times.”