When Heather Steffenson was in her mid-40s, her primary care physician asked her why she wasn’t getting yearly mammograms. She replied that she didn’t have a family history of breast cancer and wasn’t worried. “My doctor said, ‘Well, someone has to be the first in the family.’ That always stuck with me,” said Heather, now 52.
Since then, Heather never missed a yearly mammogram. But in 2018, she postponed her annual appointment for several months. “I was turning 50 in October and wanted to do all of my screenings that I’d need at the same time,” she said.
In October, she had a mammogram at the Franciscan Breast Center – Burien, and was called back a few days later for a second screening. On November 7, she received her diagnosis of breast cancer. At just 1.2 centimeters, her tumor was small and early-stage. But because Heather’s cancer was HER2-positive, it was more aggressive and would require a longer course of chemotherapy.
Right away, Heather met with Virginia Mason Franciscan Health surgeon Ani Fleisig, MD, and an oncologist. A few weeks after her lumpectomy, Heather began a 14-month course of chemotherapy and radiation. She credits her personal support network and her Virginia Mason Franciscan Health care team for helping her manage her symptoms and continue many of her normal activities during the lengthy treatment.
“People ask me all the time how I got through it. I tell them you have to have an absolutely tremendous support team, and I did. My husband Paul was my rock, and Dr. Fleisig, Dr. Patel, the nurses, and the radiation techs at Highline were so spectacular,” Heather said. “I would recommend Highline to anyone going through this.”
Being able to receive treatment at Highline Medical Center, just 15 minutes from her home in Des Moines, helped Heather maintain a normal routine and continue working full-time during treatment, she said. “A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t go to a downtown hospital. I just don’t feel like I could have had better care than what I had here at Highline. It’s been a fantastic experience.”
On March 11, 2020, Heather had her chemotherapy port removed, and looks forward to a full return to her active lifestyle of cycling, hiking, kayaking, and cheering for the Seattle Mariners. She’ll serve as the Mariners’ Honorary Bat Girl for the Breast Cancer Awareness game on May 17. Helping encourage others to care for themselves is an honor, she said.
“It's so easy to get wrapped up in your life and forget to take care of yourself, but I’m a walking billboard for breast cancer screening,” she said. “I tell everyone I meet not to skip their annual mammogram.”