In 1993, Gail Jean Kravetz had been busy enjoying life as a woman in her 50s. A recent widow – Jean lost her husband, Sanford, to melanoma – she worked as a bookkeeper at her family’s business, and spent her free time playing with her granddaughter and following her favorite sports team: the St. Louis Cardinals. Then, one day, after doing a self-exam, she found a noticeable lump in her breast. She had an annual mammogram a few months prior, which showed no signs of cancer. On the other hand, her sister had battled breast cancer some years earlier. The possibility of cancer soon weighed heavily on Jean’s mind.
In October 1993, Jean’s life would forever change: after undergoing testing, she discovered that she had stage 2B breast cancer in 25 lymph nodes. “The diagnosis was alarming,” Jean recalls.
“As advanced as the cancer was, my doctor told me that I had only a 35 percent chance of surviving. I knew I didn’t want to die, so I prepared to fight this with everything I had.”
Jean underwent a lumpectomy followed by intensive radiation treatment. Her medical oncology treatment was under the care of oncologist Dr. Alan Lyss of Heartland Cancer Research, a National Cancer Institute-designated Community Clinical Oncology Program at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. “We took an aggressive approach in treating Jean’s breast cancer,” recalls Dr. Lyss. “Her case would have been considered stage 3 by today’s standards.”
Dr. Lyss recommended that Jean participate in some of Heartland’s clinical trials. The first trial was for the drug Paclitaxel (Taxol™). She was one of 10 women at the Cancer Center who agreed to participate in this trial and among the first in the country to try the new drug for stage 2-3 breast cancer. This clinical trial was successful and, 14 years later, all 10 women are alive and their cancer remains in remission.
With a compromised immune system, Jean suffered various side effects from the treatments, including pneumonia and shingles. She required five blood transfusions. Despite feeling exhausted, she continued to work as a bookkeeper and wore wigs to conceal her hair loss. “I wanted to lead a normal life as much as possible,” she said. “And I really didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. That was the best way for me to deal with the cancer.”
Jean also participated in a clinical trial for letrozole, which has become popular in the treatment of advanced, estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. The trial demonstrated that letrozole, when administered after five years of tamoxifen therapy to women with earlier stages of breast cancer, may lower the risk of cancer recurrence by 30 percent.
Fortunately, Jean’s treatments were successful. Today, she remains breast cancer-free nearly 15 years after her diagnosis and she’s enjoying her grandchildren, retirement and watching the St. Louis Cardinals play. She is thankful for her supportive family and for the advanced, quality care that she received. “Dr. Lyss saved my life,” Jean said. “The staff at the hospital really put me at ease. Missouri Baptist is truly a wonderful place – everyone makes you feel right at home.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment at the Cancer Center, call 314-996-5151 or contact us online.