Alive & Kicking: LU School of Nursing chair talks about battling breast cancer, and living to buy more heels

Two weeks after achieving her PhD in nursing, Cindy Stinson discovered a lump on her breast.

Although she had received over a dozen mammograms leading up to her cancer diagnosis, it was she who discovered that something wasn’t right and approached her physician.

When it was confirmed that she had Stage 2 breast cancer, the news was devastating to Stinson. The Lamar University School of Nursing Chair regularly educates her students about breast cancer — the second leading cause of cancer death in women, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). She is the one who prepares them for possibly treating these patients when they enter the workforce, but now it was Stinson who would be the cancer patient.

“Every semester I teach cancer. I have a five-hour lecture for second semester students. We talk about myths and realties of cancer,” Stinson said.

“One of the hardest things for me to do was become a patient,” she continued. “It was a very strange experience because I am the type of person who is rarely sick. … I was used to being a teacher and being a nurse and taking care of other people. It was hard for me to realize now that I was the person that needed to be taken care of.”

Stinson said it’s difficult for healthcare providers when they, conversely, find themselves on the doctor’s exam table.

“You do know the facts, but it’s very difficult when it’s on a personal level,” said Stinson, who worked as a nurse for years before becoming a college professor. “Sometimes you have to pull yourself away from what you know.”

She said she remembers seeing patients suffering sitting next to her while lined up for chemotherapy, and as a nurse herself, wanting to help them.

“I’d have to stop and think, ‘Oh, no, I am the patient,’” she said.

Stinson, who was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), said her doctor reminded her that unlike the cancer research studies she was accustomed to poring over as a college professor, she wasn’t just a statistic.

According to ACS, IDC is the most common type of breast cancer. About 8 of 10 invasive breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas.

“IDC starts in the cells that line a milk duct in the breast, breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the nearby breast tissues,” the ACS website states. “At this point, it may be able to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the lymph system and bloodstream.”

Stinson’s was progesterone positive breast cancer, meaning her hormones actually helped grow and spread her cancer.

After undergoing six months of chemotherapy, 45 rounds of radiation and three surgeries to remove her cancer, she was prescribed anastrozole, which she took for five years to keep her cancer in remission. The drug works by decreasing the amount of estrogen the body makes.

Stinson then learned two months after she finished her treatments that her husband, Wayne, had prostate cancer. Luckily, Wayne’s cancer was caught in its early stages and he was able to have surgery to remove it.

After she and her husband both survived battles with cancer, Cindy partnered with the Gift of Life and started an initiative called Cancer Crusaders. The Crusaders’ mission is to promote cancer prevention and education for medical professionals, as well as cancer educational programs for the lay community in Southeast Texas by distributing materials on the signs and symptoms of cancer, risk factors and diagnostic methods. The initiative also further equips health care workers with the latest information to enable them to help guide patients from detection through treatment and recovery.

But people don’t like to talk about “The C Word.”

“We want to keep our lives normal,” Stinson said. “I believe we can educate people, and laypersons can take responsibility for their own health and we can save lives.

“One thing I like to tell people is a diagnosis of cancer is not necessarily a diagnosis of death. Fear is the worst enemy against curing people of cancer because people are so fearful that they don’t get checked out. Early diagnosis is the key. If you get to it early you may just have to have surgery and may not have to have chemotherapy or radiation.”

In February, more than a decade after being diagnosed with cancer, Stinson shared her story with more than 300 cancer survivors at Gift of Life’s Survivor Celebration Reception at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.

“The idea of a Valentine Survivors Celebration was conceived and implemented nearly 20 years ago with Total, a committed supporter, helping sponsor the event,” said Gift of Life Founder and Chair Regina Rogers. “It is certainly always an honor to recognize and celebrate the strength and resilience of local cancer survivors. Cancer is not meant to be fought alone, and the Gift of Life helps men and women battling this disease in every possible way. We are also so blessed to honor the memories of those who have been important to our efforts and who, unfortunately, are no longer with us, and which includes 25 individuals this year.”

Since beating cancer, Stinson has traveled with her nursing students to Ireland through the Lamar University Study Abroad Program. She’s educated thousands of nursing students and written a nursing book.

“I’ve seen one grandchild graduate from high school and I’m about to have a third one,” Stinson said. “I always tell people I’ve eaten way too much chocolate and bought too many pairs of red high heels, but the point here is I’ve lived.”

Photo by Brandon Gouthier - In February, more than a decade after being diagnosed with cancer, Lamar University School of Nursing Chair Cindy Stinson shared her story at Gift of Life’s Survivor Celebration Reception at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.