“It’s no big deal.” That was the first thought of Adela Van Antwerp, a UF College of Medicine department of surgery administrative specialist, when her radiologist found a questionable mass in her right breast.
It was the same spot the radiologist had monitored through annual mammograms — but until now it had caused no concern. The next step was a biopsy. “I thought it was probably just a cyst,” Van Antwerp said.
She got the call at work on July 31, 2015. The results came back positive for stage 1 breast cancer, the most common type.
“When the doctor said ‘cancer,’ it was like a bomb went off,” Van Antwerp said. “I immediately was scared that I would not be here for my husband and my boys.”
With the support of her UF Health family,Van Antwerp’s journey began. She credits her co-workers in the department of surgery — Heather Porter, office manager; Josh Moncada, clinical services coordinator; and Edra Ijames, senior administrative assistant — with helping her over the first hurdle.
“Adela is one of the strongest ladies I’ve ever met,” Ijames said. “Even as a breast cancer survivor myself, she inspires me by her strength, ability to carry on in the face of adversity, and sense of humor through a tough diagnosis and rough road.”
Van Antwerp’s radiologist referred her to Lisa Spiguel, M.D., a UF College of Medicine oncology surgeon, who was concerned she may have a more extensive disease and ordered additional testing. The diagnosis was stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma.
The treatment consisted of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. She underwent a modified radical mastectomy on Aug. 20, 2015, having her breasts and 28 lymph nodes removed. She endured 18 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by 30 rounds of radiation.
Van Antwerp said she received outstanding care from faculty and staff at UF Health, including Pamela Clevenger, R.N., UF Health Cancer Center oncology nurse navigator.
“Adela is a very sweet woman with a positive attitude and an infectious smile,” Clevenger said.“It makes my job wonderful to see how patients like Adela come through a tough ordeal with such strength and grace. It’s been a joy to work with her.”
Van Antwerp’s family stood by her through the entire ordeal. Her younger son rearranged his school and life plans to help care for his mother.
“Without family at home or my work family holding me through this whole thing, I never would have made it,” she said.
Her friend Karen Brezner, UF College of Medicine division of endocrinology office manager, was also instrumental in her recovery and took her to every chemotherapy treatment.
Van Antwerp eventually returned to work part-time and was finally given clearance by her physicians to return full-time in May. She is optimistic that Coy Heldermon, M.D., Ph.D., a UF College of Medicine medical oncologist, will give her the all-clear at her follow-up appointment this month.
Van Antwerp said, “I’ve come out of it stronger, brighter and more determined to do what I have to do to be here.”