Stephanie Erin Hurlbut
Stephanie Erin Hurlbut was born June 22, 1986 in Norfolk, VA. Stephanie has been employed with Midwest Express for 11 years. She purchased her first home May 1, 2015 and currently resides in Bellefontaine, Ohio.
Stephanie was diagnosed with Stage 3C Ovarian Cancer on November 23, 2009. She is now fighting her fourth battle with this disease. In the beginning of her diagnosis, Stephanie had all the symptoms: lower back pain, bloating, feeling full quickly, and changes during her cycle. Stephanie’s cancer was misdiagnosed as a kidney infection for several months before an ultrasound was requested. During the procedure the doctors discovered masses on both ovaries and were unable to identify whether they were cancerous or benign so they ordered an MRI to be completed.
Stephanie traveled to Springfield, Ohio, for her MRI and at that point the results were sent to Marysville OB/GYN and there they scheduled for a biopsy. After months of confusion and frustration Stephanie finally received the results. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer. Stephanie was in disbelief. She said, “They told me that they were sure of the staging and I would most definitely need chemotherapy and radiation or surgery right away.”
She was referred to Dr. David Cohn at the James Cancer Center in Columbus, Ohio. Stephanie began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She said even though she was in a fight for her life situation, it was the last thing on her mind. After diagnosis, a lot of questions came to mind. One being, could she still have children of her own? Her oncologist at the time referred her to a reproductive doctor. Unfortunately after reading over the scans, they said they were unable to help Stephanie. It was too risky. They were afraid to go in and collect eggs in fear that it would aggravate the cancer and cause it to spread. At that point, everything finally sunk in and Stephanie began to feel helpless. She said, “When you have a plan in life, and something happens that destroys your plan, it truly is devastating. I felt lost for the longest time after my diagnosis. I always wanted to be a mother and felt somewhat punished because no longer was that an option for me.” Although the odds were against her and she had a long road ahead, Stephanie continued treatment at the James Cancer Center. After months of chemotherapy and radiation they performed several scans. The treatments were not working and the doctors learned that Stephanie was resistant to the chemo.
They felt it was in her best interest to have a de-bulking surgery. They scheduled the surgery and Stephanie had an amazing support group there for her to help her be prepared. The day of the surgery, Stephanie was very nervous, she said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, the doctors basically have to tell you worst case scenario with every operation they perform. I was prepared for the worst.”
After a couple hours Stephanie woke up from surgery and the nurse came in. Stephanie’s family was called to the room and they were told the bad news. The cancer had spread to her diaphragm and the doctors felt she was inoperable. They offered for her to sign some paperwork for a clinical trial where they would need her permission to participate. Stephanie signed the release.
Stephanie and her family left the hospital that day with sadness. “We were all pretty much speechless” “What we thought was supposed to help didn’t work. We felt like there was no hope” she said.
Stephanie returned to work and just tried not to think about everything while she awaited the results from the clinical study. After about two weeks she received a phone call at work. The doctors informed her that she was not a match for their trial. Once again, she was delivered devastating news. “I felt like I couldn’t win. I felt like no matter what we tried, the cancer was going to win. All the bad news just took over me.” She said.
Stephanie’s family was not ready to give up on her and were searching around the clock for other options, other treatment centers, and looking for a second opinion. One day her mom and sister were at home and saw a commercial on TV for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. While Stephanie was at work they called and spoke with one of the patient advocates and were able to schedule Stephanie’s first appointment at the CTCA. Within a few days Stephanie and her mom Lynn Goodrich were on a plane travelling to Chicago for a second opinion.
When they arrived they were introduced to Stephanie’s new care team. All of Stephanie’s labs and scans were repeated and the care team and Oncologist Sybilann Williams sat her down and discussed her plan for treatment. After four months of chemotherapy Stephanie’s tumors had shrunk in half. She couldn’t believe they found a treatment that was working! She continued Tobotecan and Avastin for eight months total when she finally received the results she was waiting for. Stephanie was in remission!! Her scans were clear! “The doctors were excited for me,” she said. “They said they wanted to monitor me every three months to make sure there were no recurrences but I was allowed to be off chemotherapy! I was so excited!!!”
Stephanie remained in good health for about 11 months before her first recurrence. She was in Chicago for her routine scans when they found the cancer had returned. At this point they wanted to be aggressive. They referred Stephanie to a surgeon. Stephanie was introduced to Surgical Oncologist Harold Huss. She said, “He explained this surgery called the HIPEC to me. It was unreal. He said I would be under anesthesia for over 12 hours and they would have to make a huge incision down my abdomen. That they would flush my abdomen with heated chemotherapy after de-bulking all the tumors and they would (shake) me on a table to make sure the chemotherapy was distributed throughout my abdomen to kill any remaining cancer cells before closing me shut. I thought he was crazy. (laughing) I told my mom I felt like he was trying to sell me a car on a car lot.” It was after my surgery that I realized why he spoke so highly of this surgery. On April 2nd of 2012, Stephanie was admitted for the HIPEC surgery. The surgery was performed by Surgeons Harold Huss and Charles Brown, the director of surgery at the CTCA. After 15 hours, Stephanie’s surgery was complete. The doctors reached out to her parents and informed them that she was considered “Cancer Free” again. They were confident that all the cancer was removed and she began her recovery. “I remember my mom coming into my hospital room while I was recovering, it was the day after my surgery and with tears in her eyes she told me I was cancer free. I don’t remember much after that, I didn’t remember that moment right away either. The memory just came back to me one day a few months after surgery.”
Stephanie was in remission for 22 months before she was again informed of a recurrence. She was so angry. She was ready to celebrate her two years cancer-free with her family and friends by her side. She didn’t give up though. She began her third fight. She started a couple different chemotherapy options but there wasn’t much success. They asked her how she felt about trying a different type of therapy. It was a pill she could take daily. It was somewhat a clinical study. They thought maybe her cancer was estrogen fed. They put me on Letrizole (Femara). This tiny pill, I had to take daily. “No side effects,” I thought to myself. There is no way this is working. I don’t even feel any different. My mom and I had this funny thing where we thought that if I felt really bad, that meant the chemo was working. Lol she said. Fortunately, to their surprise, that wasn’t the case at all. Stephanie went in for lab results and her CA125 was dropping. She continued this clinical treatment for almost 12 months and eventually achieved clear scans again. It was time to celebrate! Stephanie was in remission for 4-5 months this time and that was when she purchased her first home. This was a huge deal to her. Not only did she finally get to fulfill one of her dreams, but she also got to travel to Chicago and be recognized at the Annual “Celebrate Life” event in Chicago. She was introduced to the founders of the CTCA and they rewarded her with a gold plaque that is hanging on one of the survivor trees at the CTCA in Chicago. This is how they recognize their fighters/survivors. “This symbol shows that I fought for at least 5 years and I didn’t give up! Even though there were times where I thought I was ready, I pushed through.”
After finally getting settled in to her new house and all the excitement of Celebrate Life was over, Stephanie received news again during a follow up that the cancer had returned. The doctors decided to try chemotherapy again. After months of chemotherapy and no desired results they decided to go back to Letrizole. Stephanie is now receiving Letrizole and her numbers are dropping more and more each appointment. She is due May 23rd for her newest CAT scans. She is very optimistic that everything is going to be just fine.