Rusti’s 75 Reasons to Celebrate During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Shannon Dillon

Phyllis “Rusti” Stover has a lot to celebrate this October.

On the 26th, surrounded by her daughter, Andrea, and a sister who is coming to visit from Michigan, she’s planning a weekend getaway of fun venues in celebration of her 75th birthday.  

In Stover’s opinion, life has been quite a journey – but not one she would trade if given the opportunity.

A self-proclaimed renaissance woman, Stover is a published author, researcher, crafter, jewelry maker and seashell collector – all hobbies she actively enjoys.

In December 2016, the results of an unsettling discovery threatened to take Stover’s time away from the things she loved. Never one to back down from a challenge, Stover approached her health journey with determination.

“When my primary care physician first told me I had breast cancer, I thought to myself, I have another hobby – beating breast cancer,” Stover said.

Stover was taking a shower when she felt a hard, marble-sized lump in her left breast. Initially, she thought it could be another cyst since she has a family history of fibrocystic breast disease, and even though it wasn’t soft and large like previous cysts, Stover thought she’d be ok to ask her doctor about the lump during her annual mammogram at MD Anderson Breast Care with Memorial Hermann – at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital in a few weeks.

After pointing out the cyst and her family history during her mammogram visit, Stover completed additional scans and an ultrasound, and then a few days later a needle biopsy.

By the end of the week, Stover was incredibly anxious. She drove to her doctor’s office and was told the diagnosis – tests discovered invasive ductal carcinoma in Stover’s left breast. Her doctor told her the biopsy showed the cancer had been growing undetected in one of the three breast ducts on that side for a while, at least since her last mammogram a year earlier. The tiny lump she felt was where it had broken through and escaped the duct.

She thought, “How soon can we take care of it?” Stover recalled.

Following the initial diagnosis, Stover was connected with Lilian Sweeney, a Breast Nurse Navigator at Memorial Hermann Southwest, who Stover considers more than just someone who guided her through the questions about her diagnosis and resources available – she also considers Sweeney a friend.

It’s been 31 months since Stover underwent a lumpectomy performed by Arlene Ricardo, MD, a breast surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Southwest, and a breast reconstruction performed by David Altamira, MD, a plastic surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Southwest.

Stover is still active in the monthly Breast Cancer Support Groups, at Memorial Hermann Southwest and MD Anderson in Sugar Land, sometimes even, with her daughter Andrea, her main pillar of support, at her side.

“I am proud to say that I am cancer free,” Stover said. “I am enjoying life and I think that’s the best possible way to live. At the time of my breast cancer diagnosis I had a very active lifestyle – I walked often, did yoga and ate healthy and I’m still doing all of those things today.”

Back at her southwest Houston home, as she prepares to celebrate her upcoming 75th birthday, Stover is especially appreciative for the things she says matter most – her daughter, the friends she’s met, and those she’ll meet in the future. But, above all, she’s thankful for the opportunity to celebrate another year of life.

“The beautiful part of my journey is that I didn’t let the fear of having breast cancer overtake my thinking. The mind is very powerful. I like to focus on what is within my control and continue living.”

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