Reba Revan has been on an intense health journey throughout the last couple of years. Read on as she tells us about her experience firsthand and how she now truly feels she is a walking miracle.
Nov. 19, 2019 was my unplanned last day of work ever and my early retirement at the age of 64. That day, I went to work wearing a neck brace, back brace and two knee braces with plans of somehow fulfilling my job as surgical assistant for Stephen R. Ridgeway, MD, of Piedmont Orthopedics.
He took one look at me then said, “tell me exactly how you feel.”
I said, “I feel like I have been thrown off of a building.”
And so it began…
The very next day I was officially Dr. Ridgeway’s patient. Since my entire spine was my greatest source of pain, I was referred to Amy Hunt, PA-C, of Piedmont Orthopedics Associates Spine Service, who ordered X-rays and an MRI.
By Dec. 10 all those results were in, and Amy struggled to deliver the words, “you have cancer.”
“CANCER?! No, I’m not ready for that!!!” I thought to myself. I went numb and could not pull air through my lungs. How could it be???? I ate right, exercised and kept up with my physicals. What did I do wrong?
On Dec. 12 I pulled into the parking lot of the Bon Secours St. Francis Cancer Center as my heart raced with sheer terror. I knew a little about what I was facing being a 47-year veteran health care provider and I didn’t hold any affection for my upcoming journey.
Then I saw the Jesus statue outside the facility. Peace came over my soul and I knew God had me. Soon after, my oncologist, Robert D. Siegel, MD, medical director of the cancer center, had me, too. A calmness came over me.
My first-ever PET scan was on Dec. 17 and my hope diminished as I went through the scanner. After all, those scanners were designed especially to bring bad news, right? I was morbidly scared and knew cancer would forever change me. One day, after Christmas, my fears were realized as my scan results were available: 46 percent of my spine was positive for metastatic cancer as well as 75 percent of my liver. The primary cancer was found in my right breast, so biopsy was next.
Scared was now an extreme understatement.
On New Year’s Eve, the breast biopsy report confirmed Stage IV mucinous ER+/HER – breast cancer, a rare and non-aggressive cancer that had suddenly appeared and was fiercely aggressive. I wasn’t even due for my next mammogram and in less than a year, it had taken over my body.
It was inoperable, incurable Stage IV and there was no Stage V. I was placed on palliative care and I initiated a do not resuscitate order for my chart.
Chemo had to be immediate because my liver was about to rupture. No time was wasted to surgically implant a port for that chemo. Kristy L. Carruthers, PA-C, was my angel who performed that placement. She placed the little reservoir in my right upper chest with a catheter running under my skin into my heart. I felt branded by cancer. I was prepared to die.
Jan. 15, 2020 was chemo day. Days prior I had attended chemo education and took pre-treating meds. Then I walked into a world I had never seen before: chemo infusion. There I saw patients just like me — scared, some on their first chemo, some on their last; all of us with one thing in common — uncertainty. My heart broke for them, for all who have cancer, for me. Cancer WAS changing me — filling me with more compassion, more courage while giving me a greater insight into things of importance — things like the sunrise and birds singing.
Three more chemo treatments followed and so did an uninvited guest: depression. My own mortality got the best of me. My mirror showed me someone I didn’t even recognize. My hair fell out. My “pretty” packed up and left. Devastated, I found that prayer and journaling greatly helped as well as Lexapro, an antidepressant, or “happy pills,” as I call them. But chemo didn’t kill me, and actually neither did cancer.
On Mar. 31 I had another PET scan. I dreaded it so much that I made myself sick. After all, that scanner was the deliverer of bad news, but not this time.
Cancer was shrinking all over my body except in my liver, but that would soon follow. Photon radiation therapy was then used for further shrinking cancer and relieving pain. Hormone therapy with Ibrance tablets followed, replacing chemo. It was specifically designed to treat my type of cancer and the results were miraculous! My life turned around and I had almost daily improvements!
June 15, 2020: another CT scan and more “scanxiety” for me. Three days later, I sat before Dr. Siegel as he proclaimed, “I can only see great things on your horizon.” Take that, cancer! I was no longer held captive!
Skipping ahead to May 16, 2022 when I had a restaging PET scan for Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. The findings were unbelievable! There was no pathological activity of cancer and no recurrent metastatic lesions in my body. My liver was stable with decreasing cancer lesions and no new ones. It’s much too early to call it a cure of incurable cancer, but my oncologist and superhero, Dr. Siegel, said we’re headed in the right direction.
It is true that I am a miracle.
In fact, I asked God for one and He graciously gave me one. I am not and mostly likely will never be cancer-free, but I am alive and well. God has a plan for me and I’m so open and excited about anything that gives Him more glory. The greatest offering we can give to Him is to praise him in the storm.
My entire care team are my heroes. At every turn they met me right where I was and all my needs were met, from the Bon Secours Foundation helping me with finances to Sister Dorothy praying over me during chemo. I am alive today because of each and every one of them, and I am eternally grateful.
One way I can possibly help someone is to say don’t ignore any ongoing symptoms. I was severely fatigued, hurt all over, had decreasing motion in my movements and had difficulty breathing deeply. Was there a clear sign that indicated cancer? No. However, if you feel something is wrong, something is wrong.
I hope my story helps someone. I have asked God to speak through my story and I do believe He has. My miracle can be your miracle.
Learn more about the cancer care services we offer at Bon Secours.