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Published on October 29, 2013

Winning the Battle with Breast Cancer

Caitlyn Littrell and family

Caitlyn Littrell and family

Caitlyn Littrell takes after her mother. Strong and faith-filled, the Klamath Falls English teacher and mom of three young boys is a staunch optimist—and a cancer survivor.

“My mom never gave up living. I definitely learned that from her,” Caitlyn says of her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42 and ovarian cancer at age 46. Genetic testing confirmed Caitlyn possesses the same cancer-causing gene as her mother, so she was keenly aware of her own risk of developing the disease.

However, she didn’t expect to face it so soon. Last year, Caitlyn was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She was just 28 years old.

“I always assumed this would be an issue for me,” Caitlyn explains, which is why she did regular breast self-exams. In May of 2012, she felt a lump but assumed it was a clogged milk duct related to nursing her six-month-old son. By early June, the lump had grown and become painful. Doctors discovered two malignant tumors, and Caitlyn underwent an emergency double mastectomy at by William E. Faught, MD, FACS, Oregon Surgical Specialists. Shortly after, she found the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and liver.

In the midst of all this, Caitlyn’s mom lost her eight-year-battle with ovarian cancer.

“We were pretty devastated,” Caitlyn says. “My mom always decided she didn’t want to know prognosis; that’s what got her through. But my husband and I needed to know what kind of battle we were fighting—just for time or for healing?”

Her doctors chose healing.

Because the cancer hadn’t yet spread to her brain, doctors believed there was a good chance of eradicating it from Caitlyn’s body. She received aggressive treatment at Asante Rogue Regional under the expert care of Dr. Alison Savage, an oncologist with Hematology Oncology Associates in Medford. She also had reconstructive surgery at Asante Rogue Regional by Brian R. Kreul, MD, Aesthetic & Plastic Reconstructive Surgery in Medford. At every step, Caitlyn appreciated the high level of personal care from the doctors, nurses, and Asante staff.

“I’ve had nothing but amazing care,” Caitlyn says. “We really are making huge strides in beating cancer.”

How did she keep her spirits up through it all? “The only way to survive cancer is to count your blessings along the way,” she says. “That’s not a Pollyanna approach; it’s just survival.”

Caitlyn has also journaled her thoughts for others who face similar challenges. You can read her blog, Everyday Glimpses.

Caitlyn encourages other women to be aware of their risks, and she offers these four tips.

  • Pay attention to your health. “If you’re worried about anything, go to the doctor. Know your breasts really well so you can be able to tell if something is different.”
  • Be your own advocate. “At some point you need to trust your doctors, but I got second opinions and researched different surgery options. Good doctors will support that.”
  • Search for help. “The Asante Oncology Nurse Navigator was a really good resource for me in the beginning, offering information on financial and travel assistance, and support groups."
  • Have hope. “I don’t believe cancer is a death sentence all the time. Have hope in medical research. It’s come a long way even since my mom’s recent battle.”

Now more than a year later, Caitlyn is in full remission. She’s feeling healthy and refuses to fear the future. “God doesn’t waste anything we go through, even the hard stuff,” she says. “I’ll definitely plan for tomorrow, but I don’t want to fret for tomorrow.”

And why should she? With modern advances in cancer treatment at Asante Rogue Regional, combined with her amazing faith and inner strength, Caitlyn Littrell has hope that one day cancer will no longer be an indiscriminate enemy. “I beat it,” she says. “And others can, too.”

 

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