‘I’m one of the lucky ones,’ survivor says

Barb Strait of Middletown considers herself one of the lucky ones. Although she endured a yearlong cancer journey, early detection and aggressive treatment made the experience easier.

A 29-year member of service sorority Phi Beta Psi, Strait is a tireless fundraiser for cancer research. The active volunteer is mom to two adult daughters and wife to family physician Dr. Kevin Strait. She loves to cook, do Pilates, exercise daily at the YMCA and play golf. She also helps take care of her 89-year old mother.

That nearly changed two years ago when Strait, now 60, went for her annual mammogram in October.

“I have always been very healthy, but my grandmother died from breast cancer in the 1930s,” said Strait, whose mother has metastatic breast cancer.

When Strait scheduled her screening at Atrium Medical Center, she opted for a new 3D mammogram.

“Given my family history, I decided to do it,” she said.

The call came the next morning. There was a small lump in her left breast. Doctors wanted another look. That led to a biopsy and a cancer diagnosis.

“It didn’t register for a long time,” Strait said. “I just couldn’t believe it until I had the biopsy, and then I still didn’t believe it.”

Surgeon Daniel Butler, MD, performed a lumpectomy in early December 2015. Strait’s cancer was HER2 positive, an aggressive form. Genetic tests for the BRCA genes were negative, meaning Strait’s cancer is not hereditary and will not affect her daughters.

The treatment plan? Chemotherapy and radiation, combined with Herceptin.

In January 2016, Strait began chemotherapy at Atrium Medical Center’s infusion center, going every Wednesday for 13 weeks. She raves about the nurses and staff.

The infusion process wasn’t bad either, until three days after treatment.

“Then I felt like I’d been hit by a bus,” Strait said. “Every ounce of energy I had was zapped for a day and a half. Then I’d start over again.”

Strait worried about maintaining her activities and caring for her mom, but didn’t let cancer slow her down.

“I made up my mind that I would not let cancer stop me from living my life.”

That attitude helps patients tolerate treatments and do better, said her radiologist, Ryan Steinmetz, MD.

By spring, Strait was looking forward to her three-week break between chemo and radiation to put away Christmas decorations and get back to normal.

“But we had a little blip,” she said.

She received a call that her husband’s heart had stopped. He was headed to the hospital.

Dr. Strait recovered fully, but the blood pressure-related scare kept him home for four weeks, even as radiation treatment began for her.

“I wouldn’t do it again, but it was good for both of us,” Strait said. “We cared for each other.”

At the time, Strait was participating in a clinical trial testing a skin lotion to reduce radiation’s irritation, itching and burning. “She is one heck of a person to go through all this and still be willing to do something to help others,” Dr. Steinmetz said.

Strait completed radiation in July. Herceptin infusions ended in December 2016. She is cancer free with a good prognosis.

And she sees bright sides to her journey:

• The “army of friends and family that took good care of me. When I turned 60, I had a big thank you party,” she said. “I had 65 people in my house.”

• Gaining an insider’s perspective on hospital operations. A 14-year Atrium Medical Center Foundation board member, Strait was impressed with her care. “I think it is important that people know about the 3D mammogram. It really saved me. My lump was small and might not have shown up on a regular mammogram.”

• Learning to “stop and smell the roses.” Today the Straits take time to play golf, travel and go for nightly walks.

For all these reasons, and more, Barb Strait really does feel like one of the lucky ones.

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