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Facing Cancer Together

Stephanie Lester

Stephanie Lester, a 42-year-old Spanish teacher at Lafayette High School in Lexington, never expected a cancer diagnosis so early in life. Along with teaching, Lester led group fitness classes that kept her active and healthy. It wasn’t until she discovered a lump in her right breast during a self-exam that she decided it was time to call her physician.

“My annual gynecology appointment wasn’t for another six months,” Lester said. “If I hadn’t been doing regular self-exams, I could have been in a much worse place.”

The tumor was cancerous, and Lester was referred to CHI Saint Joseph Health – Cancer Care Center.

Collaborating for a Cure

The extent of Lester’s cancer surprised everyone involved. She needed an integrated team of skilled specialists to stop the quickly spreading disease.

Lester first underwent a lumpectomy with John Strifling, MD, FACS, chairman of the department of surgery at Saint Joseph East, who discovered Lester’s cancer had affected her lymph nodes.

“The lumpectomy wasn’t sufficient to treat the cancer,” Dr. Strifling said. “She required a lymph node biopsy, and then a bilateral mastectomy to prevent further progression.”

Along with surgery, Lester received chemotherapy, endocrine therapy, radiation and, eventually, breast reconstruction. Throughout her treatment, Lester felt reassured by the team at CHI Saint Joseph Health – Cancer Care Center, including Jessica Croley, MD, medical oncologist, medical director of oncology for the cancer care program, and Brian Williams, MD, radiation oncologist at CHI Saint Joseph Health – Cancer Care Center.

“She tolerated the treatment so well,” Dr. Croley said. “Her positive spirit, her focus on health and a commitment to staying physically active were all important factors.”

Dr. Williams agreed that Lester’s resilience carried her through, as well as the commitment of the staff who came together for her care.

“Stephanie’s positive outcome highlights the wonderful multidisciplinary treatment for breast cancer here at CHI Saint Joseph Health – Cancer Care Center,” Dr. Williams said.

Giving Hope to Others

Now in remission, Lester inspires others with her story. She stresses the importance of reaching out to loved ones during a diagnosis.

“Don’t be embarrassed or afraid of bringing others down,” Lester said. “Have conversations about what you’re going through. It makes the disease seem less scary.”

She also stresses the importance of screenings, which led several of her students’ mothers to receive an early cancer diagnosis.

“A self-exam each month could save your life,” Dr. Strifling said. “Begin mammogram screening at age 40, or earlier if you are at high risk for developing cancer.”

Through our affiliation with Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, a nationally ranked cancer program, our patients now have greater access to second opinions and breakthrough treatments right here in Lexington.

“The entire staff at CHI Saint Joseph Health – Cancer Care Center was compassionate and attentive to my needs. The relationships I formed there were incredible.”

Time for your annual well-woman exam? Find a provider who offers gynecological cancer screenings at

A version of this article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of Spirit of Health. For more stories like this one, subscribe to Spirit of Health magazine today.

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