After going through an annual mammogram, Stacy Maugans found out that she had an aggressive breast cancer. Doctors found it early, meaning that the cancer was treatable. Maugans had stage one breast cancer, having three different types of tumor cells. She underwent surgeries, chemotherapy, and monoclonal antibodies put into her body.
“The cancer ended up being stage one. I actually had three types of tumor cells. I did have a very aggressive form, but very treatable, partially because it was caught very early and partially because doctors have figured out how to attack that particular cancer cell with monoclonal antibodies. I went through both surgery and chemotherapy. I continued the rest of the year on drug infusions of a monoclonal antibody that should help sweep all remaining floating cells of that nature out of my body,” Maugans said.
Being stressed with work, Maugans was honestly grateful for a break, as unusual as it might sound. At the point of getting her diagnosis, Maugans was ready for both a break from her job as music department chair at Valparaiso University and the hardest battle of her life.
“Even though I love my work, I was ready for a break. So when I got my diagnosis I thought, ‘you know, cancer would not be the worst thing at this time. I would get some time off of work.’ When I sat down to get the results from a biopsy that I had done, my reaction continued to be that I could have some guilt-free time off of work. I thought I would only be gone for a month, maybe having to go through some radiation and surgery, but I was not prepared to be out of work for a whole semester,” Maugans said.
Maugans was upset that she would have to take so much time off of school. However, as the days went on and with the support of her loved ones, she realized that she had to do what she had to to get better. She enjoyed and relished the times that she got to take a step back from everything and just enjoy some alone time with no stress from work.
“Once I got over the initial shock, I really found that the time off from work was not fun, but was a very renewing time for me. To take a step back from the business of my everyday life was actually really nice. Having to take a step back from work was a really, really healthy thing in many, many ways. It kind of helped restore my equilibrium. It helped me get ready to come back from the experience a little bit fresher,” Maugans said.
Throughout the ordeal, Maugans has had a plethora of help, most notably from her family and friends.
“My sister really helped me with wound care after my surgery. She and my brother-in-law took me into their house right after I had my surgery. My sister, who was still working full time and has two kids, took care of me. A tremendous amount of friends also came to my aid, helping with things I sometimes couldn’t do. Sometimes, I wasn’t able to take my dog for his walks, but, by then, I had learned how to reach out for help. I got a hold of some of my friends and they would come walk my dog on my sick days,” Maugans said.
One of Maugans’ favorite things is dogs. Since 2002, Maugans has had one dog at a time, with three of them being registered as therapy dogs. Her last two dogs helped out at retirement communities and hospice centers, giving the residents a fun thing to look forward to every day. Maugans’ current dog was certified as a therapy dog and passed the handler's exams a month before her surgery.
“My puppy and I now actually passed our dog handler exams about a month before my surgery. We have been volunteering at the university to provide stress relief for students, and I am hoping to extend our outreach during the summer,” Maugans said.
Maugans’ favorite thing about being a dog handler is the rewarding feeling that you get out of it. She loves to see the immediate reaction to the dog's presence when they go and volunteer together, especially seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces. Her puppy even helped her when she was going through her treatment process, cuddling up with her and keeping her company.
With her journey, Maugans learned many life lessons. She learned that you need to be open with everybody in your life who wants to help support you. She also learned that it is okay to let your loved ones help you, it is meaningful for your friends and family when they are helping you in a situation like Maugans was in.