February 18, 2020
Thanks to Chris Steltz’s artistic talents, the storefront window at Filling’s Clothing had won “Best in Show” in Lancaster City’s holiday decorating contest for two of the past three years.
“I’m not NOT winning this year,” Chris told her co-workers in fall 2019, determined that cancer would not get in the way of another win.
Actually, the busy Millersville wife and mother is not letting cancer stop her from living any aspect of her life to the fullest.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
In January 2017, when she went for a regularly scheduled appointment with her gynecologist at LG Health Lancaster Physicians for Women, Chris mentioned that she had been experiencing some bloating, along with discomfort on her side. Dr. Sarah Eiser ordered an ultrasound.
The results revealed probable ovarian cancer.
Although her physicians encouraged her to try to remain calm until the diagnosis was confirmed through a blood test, she recalled, “I was just spinning. I was totally irrational. It’s easy to jump to the ‘dead by Friday’ place.”
Ovarian cancer was indeed confirmed and Chris embarked on a cancer journey that began with a hysterectomy, followed by 18 rounds of chemotherapy. A journey filled with support from her family, friends, co-workers, and the team at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute.
“There is someone to answer any question you have,” said Chris, who was not only grateful for the Cancer Institute’s advanced clinical resources, but also the supportive services like social work and counseling.
It was through those supportive services that Chris learned of the LIVESTRONG program at the Lancaster YMCA. Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health helps sponsor the program which gave Christine the opportunity to bond with other cancer survivors also working to reclaim their health and wellness through customized exercise programs.
One Year Later
About a year after her treatment ended, Chris explained that she just wasn’t feeling like herself. She lacked the appetite for foods and activities she used to enjoy. Blood work revealed that her cancer was back.
Guided by gynecologic oncologist Dr. Erin Medlin and the team at the Cancer Institute, Chris completed another six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by an oral PARP inhibitor to help keep her cancer at bay.
Genetic Testing Reveals BRCA Gene Mutation
The Cancer Institute team recommended that Chris undergo genetic testing. Her sister had died of ovarian cancer 21 years ago at age 35. Identifying any genetic mutations could help guide Chris’s future care and also alert other family members of elevated risk.
Chris did test positive for the BRCA gene mutation which indicates an increased risk for breast cancer. She opted to have a bilateral mastectomy as a preventive measure.
“I didn’t want even a little spot of cancer that I would have to address later,” said Chris. “If you can avoid it, why not?” She chose breast surgeon Dr. Marnie Kaplan for the mastectomy and plastic surgeon Dr. John Bast for reconstruction, and has been very pleased with her care and recovery.
“Dr. Bast was honest in telling me that recovery from reconstructive surgery is tough,” said Chris, “but I knew that was the option that was best for me.”
Facing the Future with Optimism
Although Chris still returns to the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute for follow-up appointments, she said, “I almost felt sad leaving at the end of my treatment. I love the people. They really had me under their wing.”
Chris is grateful for all the support she received from so many people. She smiles broadly as she calls out the co-workers who, two weeks after her mastectomy, helped her bring her retro 1950s “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” vision to life in the window at Filling’s—a window which did incidentally win the decorating contest for the fifth time!
With her characteristically positive outlook, Chris said “I feel so lucky in so many ways. I’m not giving in. I have a young son. There is no other option.”