Cancer Survivors: TOPS Louisville Feature
TOPS Louisville Magazine: October Cancer Survivors Issue Features Our Own, Queen of Real Estate - Stephanie Virgin
"In 2014, Stephanie Virgin was a 29-year-old successful real estate agent looking forward to starting a family with her husband, Greg. In the months before her diagnosis, she experienced symptoms she attributed to stopping birth control in order to start a family. There was no acute or sudden onset of the symptoms. The symptoms she experienced were normal to most women - bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, urinary frequency, fatigue, and a full feeling after eating only small amounts. Her symptoms grew incrementally worse each day.
In September 2014, Stephanie Stephanie’s husband found her on the floor and convinced her to go to the doctor. The doctor found a large mass in her abdomen and ordered an emergency ultrasound and CT scan. Her doctor said "it was very indicative of ovarian cancer." “Your mind goes blank,” says Stephanie, “I had a notebook and pen in hand ready to take notes. I froze, and my husband had to take over.” Stephanie was referred to a gynecologist oncologist and a few days later had a complete radical hysterectomy, an appendectomy, and cancerous tissue stripped from her ureter and bladder. Due to some complications, Stephanie spent 12 days in the hospital. Over the next three months, there would be at least a dozen more procedures.
Stephanie started chemotherapy and had another surgery in December 2014. In January 2015, she began more aggressive IV/IP (intravenous/intraperitoneal) chemotherapy, which lasted through April. Stephanie’s primary diagnosis is Low Grade Ovarian Cancer but while in treatment, doctors detected Stephanie also had early-stage kidney cancer. Because kidney cancer is slow-growing, doctors chose to treat the ovarian cancer first and in December 2015, Stephanie had a partial nephrectomy for the treatment of Stage 1 renal cell carcinoma. Ongoing chemotherapy medication is essential because ovarian cancer has such a high recurrence rate. Stephanie is now on a new biologic and will remain on some type of treatment for ovarian cancer for the rest of her life. Following genetic testing and an indication of a higher propensity of breast cancer, she elected to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction.
Stephanie and Greg have two boys, Noah (7) and Benjamin (3), adopted through Kentucky’s foster care program. Cancer has a way of giving perspective on the important things in life. After Stephanie’s treatment, her husband Greg left his job to ultimately start First Saturday Real Estate, a real estate brokerage based in Louisville. This affords them the opportunity to work together as they understand how precious their time together is.
Stephanie is a fierce advocate for the importance of early detection. September was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. She reminds us that the symptoms can be very subtle. “Pay attention to symptoms that are new and different for you.” A helpful acronym is B.E.A.T.: B for persistent bloating, E for eating less but feeling full, A for abdominal pain, T for trouble with your bladder - urinary frequency/urgency. “A pap smear can’t detect it. An ultrasound may not catch it. There is no test for ovarian cancer. Until there’s a test, awareness is best.” Fertility treatments can increase the risk of ovarian cancer, which commonly starts in the fallopian tubes. Women getting their tubes tied might consider having them removed instead.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecological cancer and the second most fatal women’s cancer. Stephanie walked in the Kentucky Oaks Day Survivors Parade in 2015. She participates in ovarian cancer awareness events and helps educate third-year medical students on their OB/GYN rotations. Stephanie insists women “know their bodies, ask for an ultrasound, and advocate for yourself” because she knows all too well how early detection can be the difference between life and death.
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