Doctor completes his first breast cancer surgery at Cox Monett
Patient: 'I'm so grateful for their knowledge'
It's a terrifying word that can shake a patient to the core when they are first diagnosed with the terrible, deadly disease.
"The day I was diagnosed with cancer, I was devastated," said Shirley Shreffler, of Aurora, who was recently pronounced cancer-free by Dr. Armin Kamyab, a Mayo Clinic-trained general surgeon now practicing at Cox Monett Hospital. "You're floored when someone tells you something like that. I bawled all the way home."
Shreffler was putting on deodorant last spring and discovered a lump in her armpit. Thinking nothing of it, she casually mentioned it to a co-worker, who advised her to get it checked out.
I went to a Monett doctor first, and she did an ultrasound on it," Shreffler said. "Then I went to Springfield for another ultrasound and a mammogram. They told me the lump was very suspicious. I came back to Cox Monett and Dr. Armin Kamyab for the biopsy."
"They got me in quick. My sister works with Dr. K, and said she would let him operate on her children. That's a high recommendation. She got me an appointment within a day for the biopsy. I was very impressed and comfortable with him from day one."
Thus began the journey of Shreffler's battle with breast cancer.
"The biopsy came back, and I was stage III," she said. "The sad thing is, my first thought was 'How am I going to pay for this?' When you are faced with this sort of diagnosis, that should not be the first thing on your mind. You've got to live. There are house payments, car payments and that was more fearful than the cancer. And that's sad.
"The people at Hulston Cancer Center gave me the name of an organization that helps people with breast cancer. They helped make my house payments for several months because I had not been able to work since March."
Shreffler underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, which reduced the size of the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes.
"After talking to Dr. K and to Dr. Raymond Lobins, my oncologist at Hulston Cancer Center in Springfield, I felt like I would be taken care of," she said. "On Aug. 1, I went in for a double mastectomy. I had the left breast removed as a precaution."
Despite the excellent care Shreffler was receiving locally, one thing that proved to be a deterrent was her insurance carrier's unwillingness to pay for certain tests, such as the positron emission tomography (PET) scan, an imaging test that allows a doctor to check for diseases throughout the body. The scan uses a special dye that has radioactive tracers. These tracers are injected into a vein and the organs and tissues, which absorb the tracer and then appear on the imaging screen.
"I think that is pathetic [insurance would not pay for it]," she said. "I had CAT scans and bone scans instead. It's scary to think of the things they put in your body. I never dreamed I'd have to deal with something like that."
While Shreffler was dealing with the fallout of her diagnosis, so were her husband, Mark, and 19-year-old son, Dalton.
"It was hard," she said. "We were all scared. But Mark said we would do whatever we needed to do to get through it. We didn't hide anything from Dalton. Both of them were very supportive. They are there for me. The whole community was."
Shreffler, a department manager for Walmart for more than 20 years, began to get anxious about returning to work.
"My doctor would not release me because working out in the public like that is an open invitation for every type of germ or bug to hit you," she said. "One of my biggest fears was that I would lose all my hair. After the first two chemo sessions, my girlfriend buzzed it off for me. I figure God does it for a reason. When you're sick, the last thing you want to think about is messing with your hair."
Shreffler said now, she is anxious to see what it will look like when it comes back.
"Some people say their straight hair came back curly, and others said theirs came back a completely different color," she said. "It's just the shock of having your hair buzzed off. My sister got me a wig, but I've never worn it."
One of the things Shreffler disliked the most was the helpless feeling of not having a daily job to attend.
"I got sick of laying around the house," she said. "But, I think a lot of the success of my treatment was due to my attitude. I also had lots of people praying for me. I still do."
Kamyab, or "Dr. K" to most of his patients, started working at Cox Monett Hospital two years ago, and has been an on a dedicated campaign to re-establish as many surgical procedures at the local facility as possible.
"When people are diagnosed with breast cancer, they automatically think they have to go to Springfield for treatment and surgery," Kamyab said. "But we provide surgical services here for patients that want to remain closer to home. We want people to know they have that option."
Kamyab can do a majority of the preliminary work locally, including the pre-op exam, biopsies, pre-surgery, surgery, post-surgery and chemo port implants.
"A lot of people still don't know these services are available at Cox Monett," Kamyab said. "Patients should have the option of receiving treatment locally, if it is available. While most surgeons will get a breast cancer patient in quickly, patients find our facility more accessible and less crowded."
"All my care here has been wonderful," Shreffler said. "The staff has been so friendly, checking on me, the personal care -- I wasn't just a number to them. Everyone was really great, and that makes it easier on the patient."
"It's always great to have good outcomes," Kamyab said. "We are happy to have gotten it all out."
"I'm excited," Shreffler said. "Beside myself. Not everyone has the inside information like I did. Dr. K is good. I trust him. And I had no idea a surgeon of his skill was right here in Monett."
Shreffler is now planning to schedule reconstructive surgery and get back to having a normal life.
"I've been in turmoil since March," she said. "And, Walmart has been good to me about all of this. I know I'll still have a job, just maybe not the same one. I'm hoping to be released back to work soon."
Kamyab said area residents should perform regular self-checks to ensure their own health.
"Men can also get breast cancer," he said. "People discovering a mass, lump, or those with a family history of cancer should make regular checks for unusual swelling or tenderness in or around the genitals, breast or neck areas."
The five most common signs of cancer include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, fever, pain and skin changes, according to the American Cancer Society.
"Tell your doctor about any new lumps, bumps or symptoms," Kamyab said. "Don't be shy about it. I've had patients as young as 23 get checked."
"I loved having my surgery here," Shreffler said. "It was closer and more convenient for my family to visit, the access to treatment was easier and Dr. K was wonderful. He even called to check on my progress while he was on vacation. I've never heard of another doctor doing such a thing."