As a Marketing Director, Alison Corbius’ job is to see the world from other people’s point of view and consider messages that might resonate with them. But after Corbius was diagnosed with breast cancer, she saw first-hand the impact and importance of promoting breast cancer awareness.
“We can have cute logos and we can have cute T-shirts and all that, but here’s the thing: Go, get it done. Get the mammograms,” Corbius said.
She noticed a lump in her right breast during a regular self-exam in December 2018 and went to her primary care doctor, concerned that something was not right. After this visit, Corbius was referred to MU Healthcare’s Ellis Fishel Cancer Center for a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound and a biopsy.
Corbius received the news of her cancer on Friday afternoon. She was sitting at her kitchen table, “trying to hold her own”, when she got another call less than 30 minutes later. It was a nurse at Ellis Fischel, who offered to answer any questions and told her she could see a surgeon on Monday.
“It was all about having someone to talk to on that particular day,” Corbius said. “That’s when I saw what it would be like to work with Ellis. After I met my surgeon, I was really relieved, because what you really want is to hear someone say, ‘We can do something for you.'” I sat down, and the surgeon looked at me, and said, ‘We know what. We do this.”
Corbius and her family moved to Colombia in 2015, not knowing much about Elise Fishel. While waiting for her diagnosis, she wondered if she would have to travel to another city for treatment. After early interactions with her care team at Ellis, Corbius was confident it was the best spot for her.
“It’s not that there are no decisions you have to make or there are no actions you have to take, but I thought my life would be filled with trying to coordinate doctor appointments and running back and forth. That’s not what happened,” she said. “They really took care of everything. They make appointments, coordinate everything, call and remind you, and tell you where to go. It was just a step by step. All I had to do was continue. I had all of these people to support me on this very difficult physical, spiritual and emotional journey. It was all here.”
Tests showed Corbius had stage 2B lobular breast cancer, which had spread to lymph nodes. Cancer cells have elevated levels of HER2 – a protein found in nearly one in five breast cancers that can indicate more aggressive spread – and tested positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors. These factors helped her doctors determine a course of treatment.
Corbius received six months of chemotherapy before surgery. She opted for a double mastectomy followed by reconstruction, and then received six weeks of radiotherapy.
After Corbius completed the radiotherapy, her team suggested she might benefit from taking a new drug, abemaciclib, in addition to an anti-estrogen drug. In a clinical trial, abemaciclib was shown to increase disease-free survival, the period after successful treatment during which there are no signs and symptoms of disease, by 4-5 percentage points.
“This study showed that the use of abemaciclib, in addition to anti-estrogen therapy, helped these women,” said Pooja Nestala, MD, director of the medical breast cancer program at MU Health Care.
Corbius is now in remission and is back to living an active life, working, lifting weights, walking the dog, painting, and spending time with her husband and two adult sons.
During therapy, Corbius leaned on her family: her husband, David, the dean of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, would cook and make late-night food for whatever she felt like eating, and her two sons lifted her spirits. their own ways.
Her youngest son, John, who was studying abroad in Europe after Corbius encouraged him not to cancel his plans, left the hats stashed around the house and told her where to find them as Corbius began to lose her hair. Her eldest son, Blake, adjusted his work schedule to go with her to every chemotherapy appointment, and he always brought her favorite smoothie—chocolate with strawberries and peanut butter.
She said that what helped her during treatment was “faith, family, and Elise Fishel.” Her experience with breast cancer has encouraged Corbius to share her story, and her message to other women is clear.
“Go check yourself out, and follow what your doctor says,” Corbius said. “It’s not something to play with. The most important thing, and people are already talking about it, but I’m not sure it always sinks in, is the importance of time. Early on makes a difference in the kind of surgery you have, whether you have radiation, it changes everything. So Don’t wait, do it now.”