Devon Steen of Cedar Rapids didn’t have a significant history of breast cancer in her family, but in late 2018, at the young age of 27, she felt a lump in her breast. After a visit with her primary care provider, Steen was referred to St. Luke’s Breast & Bone Health for an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy. The results came back as Stage III HER2 Positive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Though it was a difficult situation, Steen felt the support of the team at the Nassif Community Cancer Center right away.
“The day I went back to Breast & Bone Health to see my results, they had already scheduled me to meet with the oncologist and the surgeon that same day,” recalled Steen. “That was fantastic because waiting is the hardest part. I felt renewed knowing we were able to come up with a treatment plan that day.”
Treatment and Preparation for Surgery
Steen began four months of chemotherapy in February of 2019, all while keeping up with her graduate school classes and, along with her husband, caring for their two-year-old daughter. As part of her busy schedule, Steen also worked with the team at the Community Cancer Center. Mona Cook, BSN, RN, CBCN, was her care coordinator, serving as Devon’s constant point of contact throughout her cancer journey and connecting her with other members of the team.
“I worked with Mona through the biopsies, and she was the one who actually told me I had cancer,” said Steen. “She was wonderful.”
Two team members Mona connected Steen with were Matt Schmitz, cancer exercise specialist, and Nancy Yeisley, oncology social worker. Steen worked with Matt for pre- and post-surgery evaluation and wellness plans and Nancy was there to talk and provide resources as needed.
“Matt had so much knowledge and he worked with me on my flexibility and strength and gave me some exercises to do. I think that’s made a long-term impact on my flexibility,” said Steen. “And Nancy was wonderful. She was there to talk, but I liked she also respected that sometimes I just wasn’t in the mood to talk. She also connected me with some helpful resources.”
Surgery, Continued Treatment and Follow-up Care
Following chemo, Steen went in for a bilateral mastectomy in August of 2019, which was performed by Dr. Kerri Nowell, surgeon at Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa (PCI). This was followed by a little over a month of radiation treatment in November and December 2019.
Steen now sees her oncologist, Dr. Rasa Buntinas at PCI, for monthly check-ups and will complete her immunotherapy treatments in January 2022. She also completed reconstruction surgery with PCI surgeon Dr. David Jerkins in April 2021.
One other service Steen participated in at the Community Cancer Center was genetic testing, which helped a member of Steen’s family discover their risk and take a proactive approach. Results showed Steen has a “mutation of unknown significance,” meaning she could be at higher risk for certain cancers. Steen’s family member, who also underwent the testing, discovered they carried the same mutation.
“My family member now meets with Dr. Buntinas to take preventive measures and screenings,” explained Steen.
A Personal Impact
A cancer diagnosis alone is difficult to face, but for Steen and her husband, Derrick, there was an added struggle in the form of the chemotherapy’s impact on Devon’s fertility.
“When I met with the fertility specialist, he said one of the types of chemotherapy I was on was very toxic to people my age, and that I probably didn’t have many quality eggs left,” shared Steen. “This was the hardest part of this whole cancer thing for me because it was our dream to have a big family.”
The Steens also explored the possibility of harvesting her eggs, but because her cancer was estrogen positive, she was told harvesting her eggs may actually fuel the growth of the cancer. This left the couple with limited options, and that’s where Steen’s family stepped in and volunteered to help them complete their family.
“My sister volunteered to donate her eggs and my cousin will be our gestational carrier,” explained Steen. “It means everything that my family surrounded me throughout my treatment and now even though my treatment is over, they’re still continuing to rally around me. This is pretty much the biggest gift you could give.”
The Steens set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses related to expanding their family, for those interested in supporting them.
A Second Family
“No one ever expects to have cancer,” said Steen. “Certainly not when you’re 27 and in grad school and have a toddler at home. My message to women of any age is be aware of your body and advocate for yourself.”
Thanks to Devon’s awareness and decision to advocate for herself, she’s able to share this message today with other women. She’s also grateful to her support systems she had during her journey that helped her through this challenging time: her biological family and her second family at the Nassif Community Cancer Center.
“I’ve always been close with my family and their gift is priceless,” said Steen. “The entire team at the Community Cancer Center was so compassionate. It was the little things, like how the front desk staff knew my name. I could just walk in and wave and they knew who I was. I spent so much time there, it felt like they were a second family.”
Whether you’ve received a cancer diagnosis elsewhere and would like to meet with a member of our team to review your case, or you’re already in treatment and would like more information on how our extensive offering of support services can help you through your cancer journey, call the Community Cancer Center at (319) 558-4876 or visit communitycancercenter.org.
Request a Mammogram
Early detection is the best prevention when it comes to breast cancer. If you’re 40 or older, now is the time to be proactive about your breast and bone health. Click here to request a mammogram appointment.
Walk-in Mammograms Available
St. Luke’s Breast & Bone Health also offers walk-in appointments*, so women can fit their screening mammogram into their busy schedules at times that work for them. Walk-in appointments are available Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a doctor’s order. Simply walk into any of our three convenient locations and receive a mammogram at a time that works for you.
*priority is given to those with a scheduled appointment.