Stories of Perseverance: Debbie Stoutjesdyk
Written by Amanda Schrauben
Debbie Stoutjesdyk is a cancer survivor. Three times she has battled breast cancer, having fought most recently earlier this year. As an oncology nurse for 41 years, she is familiar with patient protocol, however she has a different perspective having also been a patient.
Debbie and her husband, Jim, have been married for 27 years. As a blended family, they have raised seven children. They have 15 grandchildren with another on the way. Debbie and Jim enjoy spending a few weeks each year in Mazatlan. The Mexico destination was first a warm place to go in 2007 after Debbie’s treatment the second time she had cancer was complete but has since turned into a yearly trip.
Debbie’s first experience with cancer came when she was 24, in 1992. She was diagnosed with colloid breast cancer which is rare and makes up only two percent of breast cancer diagnosis. A lumpectomy was performed followed by 30 radiation treatments. She was able to work full-time during treatment and recovery due to not experiencing harsh side effects of battling the disease. She continued to get yearly mammograms following her diagnosis.
Fast forward 24 years to 2005. She skipped one yearly mammogram. After her father was diagnosed at age 70 with stage IV lymphoma, she decided to schedule the exam. For a second time cancer was found, in the same breast. It’s suspected the radiation treatment from decades ago was what caused the second appearance. In September of that year Debbie had a mastectomy and then chemotherapy from October until January of the following year. Chemotherapy would then continue every three months for a year.
November of last year, Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time. This most recent occurrence of stage II was in the other breast, thankfully found early. Debbie had been asked to schedule a repeat mammogram six months after her regular exam in order to watch some spots where calcification was seen. This repeat mammogram did not show a change in the spots but did show a mass. Debbie is thankful the mass was seen then and wonders how large it may have been if she didn’t have that six month recheck. A mastectomy was performed and on January 7th of this year a port was placed with chemotherapy starting the following day. Treatment ended for her in March of this year and she returned back to work on a full-time basis in June.
While losing hair during her most recent chemotherapy treatment was not a new experience, it still was a sign of the journey she was on for a third time. As a surprise in January of this year, two of her sons and one son-in-law decided to shave their heads to show their support. While it wasn’t necessary, it was a gesture which touched Debbie as she watched them go bald during a Facetime call. After the call, one of her grandsons also wanted to shave his head.
Working with cancer patients, Debbie has some who will ask more personal questions or express feelings knowing she has a shared understanding of the clinical and emotional process of treatment. “I can say the injection of chemo won’t hurt and the patient won’t feel anything,” she says of her ability to offer support when others are worried at their first appointment.
Prior to last year’s cancer diagnosis, Debbie was scheduled to retire at the end of the year. This is still her plan as she looks forward to having more time to spend with family, including a month-long trip back to Mazatlan with her husband. The annual vacation had to be skipped this year due to her ongoing treatment. She also says she may look into ways to help with Pink Arrow in the future.
Debbie hopes that her story will encourage others to have yearly mammograms. Had it not been for these yearly scans, her cancer would have gone undetected. Each time her cancer was a different cell type. There’s no overwhelming factor or reason as to why she has had to deal with cancer three times. There’s no history of cancer in her family and some genetic testing has shown no markers her children should worry about.
Debbie hopes that she has now won the war after this past battle. She’s left with some tingling and numbness in her hands but overall has not had to deal with side effects from chemotherapy. Debbie also wants others to know it’s okay to ask for, and especially accept, help from friends and family.
Pink Arrow has been special to Debbie because her second diagnosis was a year before the inaugural game. Her husband surprised her that first game having a winning bid on a jersey so she was a survivor on the sideline. The two have purchased shirts every year and with the exception of last year, Debbie has walked the survivor lap each fall. She plans on walking this year showing that even after a third cancer diagnosis she’s still a survivor.