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Deborah McStallworth and Rhonda Pinkston describe their Battles with Breast Cancer

Two Oklahoma Women Share the Importance of Self Breast Exams and Mammograms

Nov. 2019, Deborah McStallworth noticed a knot the size of a golf ball while doing a self-breast exam. She had no family history of breast cancer. She had just turned 40. She was too young for breast cancer. Wasn’t she?

McStallworth would soon learn that breast cancer can strike early and strike with a vengeance.

Things began to happen quickly, an appointment with one specialist here, and another specialist there. Her family medicine physician examined her first and referred her immediately to INTEGRIS General Surgeon, John Goulart, M.D. He ordered a CT, PET Scan and did a biopsy. 

“I was diagnosed with stage four invasive carcinoma breast cancer,” she said. Together with her physicians, the decision was made to start chemotherapy at the INTEGRIS Cancer Institute of Enid. McStallworth talks about the stages of grief that you go through following a cancer diagnosis, denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. She felt them all at one point, she said. “It really hit me hard when I had my first chemo treatment and my hair fell out,” she said. “That’s when it became real.”

Her sister, Crisi Crabbs, sits by her side. “It’s heartbreaking to say the least, to see her like this,” Crabbs said. “I hate seeing her go through this. She’s so young.” McStallworth has a message for all women. “Make sure you get your mammogram done. The growth rate on some breast cancers is so great. It can just take over your body.”

Fortunately, chemo is often a great adversary of cancer. “The chemo is definitely working,” McStallworth said. “All of my tumors are ½ the size they were.” As the tumors shrink, her faith and determination to beat the cancer grow. “I am not an overly religious person, but this has brought me closer to God,” she said. As she finishes this round of chemo, McStallworth leans on her two sisters for support, Crisi and Dana Kuhlman. “They’ve been great,” she said. “This place has been great.”

While McStallworth will soon begin the next phase of her treatment, radiation, Rhonda Pinkston, age 60, just finished her radiation treatment.

Pinkston was dragging her feet when it came time for her annual mammogram. She had done it religiously for 20 years, and each time every year additional tests were ordered. She was accustomed to “suspicious” spots showing up and they never amounted to anything. She had no family history of breast cancer and wasn’t the least bit concerned about the possibility of a cancer diagnosis. Finally, after much prodding from her family doctor, she gave in and finally decided to schedule the mammogram. As suspected, there was an unusual spot again, only this time, it did amount to something.

Pinkston was diagnosed with breast cancer in Dec. 2019. It’s almost unimaginable that a spot, the size of an M&M, can wreak such havoc on a body, Pinkston said, but that spot was an invasive ductal carcinoma, the same as McStallworth’s, and it had already infiltrated the breast tissue wall. Her oncologist told her that the cancer treatment would be very aggressive and to be prepared for some tough roads ahead.

“My cancer wasn’t caused by hormones and it wasn’t genetic either. It was just luck of the draw that I got it,” she said.

Pinkston’s cancer is referred to as triple negative. These type of cancers do not respond to hormonal therapy cancer treatments. Fortunately, there are other options, like radiation, which is what brought her to INTEGRIS Bass Baptist Health Center, the only hospital in northwest Oklahoma with the TrueBeam™ advanced radiotherapy system.

INTEGRIS Bass recently invested $3.4 million to acquire the TrueBeam system, which is designed to deliver noninvasive image-guided radiosurgery and has several key advances including:

  • Higher accuracy
  • Fewer side effects in the treatment of complex tumors
  • 50 percent faster treatment delivery times
  • Better visibility of healthy tissue around tumor so it can be avoided

Pinkston came to INTEGRIS Health for her radiation oncology treatment five times a week for five weeks. Her treatments only lasted 10 minutes from start to finish. “Driving to Enid every day from Alva was the hardest part of my radiation treatment,” she joked.

All of Pinkston’s cancer treatments took place in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, a scary thought for someone with an already compromised immune system, but her determination to continue treatment never faltered. Consequently, no part of her treatment was halted during the pandemic, including three different surgeries. “I just wanted to get it done,” she said.

And just like the hospital forged ahead during uncertain times, so too did Pinkston. “From the very beginning I felt protected,” she said. “I have a very strong Christian base.” She also drew strength from her diagnosis. “It definitely makes you stronger,” Pinkston said, “because, well, you have to be. It’s definitely no fun, and treatment feels like torture at times, but it doesn’t help to worry too much.”

Now that Pinkston has finished her treatments, her hair, lashes and eyebrows are coming back. Slowly but surely, her body is starting to get back to normal. Now her focus is on continuing to heal, and of course protecting herself from contracting COVID-19. She echoes the same message as McStallworth. “Do not put off your mammogram.”

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Mammograms have shown to reduce breast cancer-related deaths by 20 to 30 percent, making it the single most effective screening tool to detect breast cancer.  INTEGRIS Health encourages all women age 40 and older and those with a personal or family history of breast cancer to schedule your mammogram today.