For Stephani McNamara, diagnosis day was January 13, 2017 – Friday the 13th. The invading cancer came with a complicated name- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma – that would turn her life upside down.
Stephani said she almost didn’t go to the mammogram that detected the breast cancer. She was tired. It was early morning, the day after Thanksgiving. The drive would take longer than the scan. But her grandmother had died of breast cancer. So she went.
Today she is grateful she hauled her tired self out of bed – and credits early detection with saving her life.
But the journey hasn’t been easy.
She had two tumors in one breast and another benign tumor in the other. Of the two cancerous tumors, one was a more aggressive cell and most likely would’ve grown quickly without that early detection.
The cancer was discovered between stage 1 and 2. Stephani explained mammograms don’t even detect cancer until the small tumors contain about one trillion tiny cells. Once they hit that point, though, they can then triple in size every three months. It’s why early detection is so important.
On Valentine’s Day she had a double mastectomy. Complications required more surgeries. In six months she had four surgeries.
Stephani said the support from her two families was amazing. You see, in addition to her immediate family, Stephani also opened up about her diagnosis to her second family: one she calls her ‘football family.’
The McNamara’s have been heavily involved in the Snoqualmie Valley Wildcat Football program since their recent Mount Si graduate was only 7 years old. Husband Dan announces Mount Si home football games and Stephani runs the clock.
She decided to disclose the diagnosis to that second family and said they ‘came out of the woodwork’ to help the family. Stephani candidly commented, “My football family f’ing rocks.”
They set up a GoFundMe to help the family with medical costs. They brought meals to their home for 2 1/2 months straight.
Stephani said the response and support was unbelievable. So much so that she wanted to find a way to pay it forward… to have an impact.
So she talked to Mount Si Football Coach Charlie Kinnune, whose own mother is a breast cancer survivor. They decided that the October 12th team dinner would have Stephani as the keynote speaker.
For as long as Coach Kinnune has been at the helm of the football program they’ve held Thursday night team dinners, with guest speakers to help teach life lessons and inspire the boys to “play with a purpose” – show them that football is just a stepping stone in life.
So October 12th was Stephani’s night – the night before the ‘Pink Out’ game in support of breast cancer awareness. Her goal was to show the boys, many of whom she’s known since they were 7-years old, that wearing pink meant something. It wasn’t just a fad. It was personal.
She wanted them to feel pride wearing pink out on the field.
Recent graduate and former player Harrison Danna came back for the dinner. He had lost his mom to breast cancer a decade earlier. Stephani’s son, Cade, came back, too. And senior Logan VanCampen was there. His mother is a 10-year breast cancer survivor.
Stephani had the boys stand if their lives or lives of family members had been touched by cancer, showing just how common a cancer diagnosis is. Relaying grim stats: that 40,000 women will die of breast cancer just this year alone. That as of March 2017, 3.1 million share a history of breast cancer.
Harrison, Cade, Logan and Coach Kinnune all wore special pink t-shirts with a special MSHS football connection to the 4 fingers players raise as they start the 4th quarter each game. It’s a symbol meant to inspire: this is it, fight hard to the finish. Those pink shirts said: I am 4 (hand with four fingers up) a Cure.
The talk ended, though, with the best news of all. Stephani had known for two weeks that her body was cancer free, but she waited for this special team dinner to announce it.
She said she’s confident the boys got it. She was moved by their reactions… their hugs… their “My pink is for you Momma Mac.” She added, “I knew I was doing the right thing and had impacted them.”
On Friday October 13th – nine months to the date after Stephani’s cancer diagnosis – Mount Si football players put on their pink, hit the field and knew exactly what it meant to wear the color… who and what it represented. And at the start of the 4th quarter, four fingers were raised for ‘Momma Mac” by many players.
Stephani’s battle isn’t over. She still has two more surgeries. She’ll be on Tamoxifen for five years. She’s working two jobs to save money and plan for time off when it’s time for those surgeries. Oh, and she also wants to do fundraisers at the high school next year to support cancer research.