Sometimes, a cancer diagnosis creates a ripple effect felt by others. This is exactly what happened when Olieka Caudill, 38 of Wheelwright, was diagnosed.
With a new baby boy, and young daughter at home, breast cancer wasn’t even on Olieka’s radar.
While breastfeeding her infant son, Olieka discovered a painful lump in her breast the size of her thumb. Her doctor first suspected it was a cyst, but wanted an ultrasound just in case. By the time she got her ultrasound, the lump had doubled in size. PMC General Surgeon Oon Leedhanachoke, MD, (Dr. Oon) ordered a biopsy to get answers.
Because of the rapid rate of growth, Dr. Oon made the decision to do a complete lumpectomy. The pathology report confirmed she had stage two triple negative breast cancer.
After reviewing her options, Olieka decided on a complete, radical mastectomy of the right breast, performed by PMC General Surgeon Grady Stephens, MD.
“Before going into the surgery, the nurse held my hand and prayed with me,” said Olieka. “Afterwards, I was completely calm when I went in. The surgical staff was great.”
The mastectomy was not the end of her journey. She now had to see an oncologist to determine a course of treatment.
“I couldn’t have asked for better care than I received from PMC Hematologist/Medical Oncologist Christopher Croot, MD.,” said Olieka. “When he came in, he told me we could fight it, and I was going to live.”
“Triple negative breast cancer requires powerful chemotherapy because it doesn’t respond well to other treatments,” explained Dr. Croot. “These types of tumors are much more aggressive.”
While going through chemotherapy, she still came to work as a pharmacy tech at PMC. Her outlook and determination were an inspiration to her coworkers.
“She doesn’t even realize how many lives she’s changed,” expressed PMC Pharmacist Cassee Jones. “Her attitude is unbelievable. Olieka always comes to work with a smile and ready to go. She is a special person who brightens everyone’s day.”
Olieka explained that working with the public as a pharmacy tech helped her get a better perspective on life. She saw many, many sick people coming to get their medicine and realized that they kept going, and she could too.
Olieka encouraged everyone around her to get screened for various cancers. It was not long before she would understand the impact her cancer diagnosis would have on her family.
Her 35 year-old sister, Courtney Yates, got a mammogram at Olieka’s urging. Courtney was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer as well, in stage 1 when it’s most curable.
“I would go through this all over again, just to save her,” said Olieka. “God is using this diagnosis to save my sister and possibly our children.”
Olieka and her sister underwent genetic testing for breast cancer and other types of cancers. They both tested positive and will have their children tested when they are older.
Olieka is now finishing up her radiation treatments under the care of PMC Radiation Oncologist Ruth Lavigne, MD. When her treatment is complete, she will have a hysterectomy and a radical mastectomy of the left breast. Her genetic testing revealed she has an 80 percent chance of developing other types of female cancers, so these procedures put her at significantly less risk.
For more information about the oncology services offered at PMC, please visit www.pmcfightscancer.org or call 606-218-2212.