Greg Alexander

Fighting Cancer Every Day

Mason-Dixon Arrive, October 2008

Life is filled with ironies from time to time, some interesting and amusing – others surprising and scary. For Stacey Keen, M.D., eight years ago she dealt with irony, and unfortunately, it was of the latter kind.

Dr. Keen, a diagnostic radiologist with Advanced Radiology, the largest imaging provider in Maryland, says she never reads her own mammograms but admits, “I always take a peek at them.” In October 2000, Dr. Keen took her usual peek at her mammogram and saw what no woman ever wants to see – evidence of cancer. “I knew immediately that it was cancer. I hoped that it was the pre-invasive form, but after a few days, I knew that it wasn’t. I had cancer.”

Luckily for Dr. Keen, she says that her knowledge – she’s a graduate of Yale University and the University of Virginia School of Medicine – and experience allowed her to make important decisions and take necessary immediate steps. “I saw the X-rays on Monday, had an ultrasound on Tuesday, met with a surgeon on Friday and had surgery on the following Monday. There was no waiting period for me.” After surgery, Dr. Keen underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and is now cancer free. “This month, I celebrate my eighth year as a survivor,” she says proudly.

Although she was armed with a wealth of knowledge on breast cancer, Dr. Keen stresses, “It’s overwhelming for anyone. Although I was fortunate that I knew so much abut breast cancer, it doesn’t make it easy. However, I was optimistic; I had heard that a positive attitude helps your survival rate, so I decided that there was no room for negativity for me. Also, I had to show my children – my daughter was in college and my son in high school at the time – that I was a fighter to ease some of their fears.” She says that when she was diagnosed, telling her mother was the toughest. “There’s just something scary about telling your mom bad news,” she says.

In addition to traditional medicine, Dr. Keen also utilized acupuncture to help with the pain and stress. “A few years before I was diagnosed, a friend of mine’s daughter had tried acupuncture during her cancer treatment, and I thought, ‘God forbid, if I ever get cancer, I’ll try it, too.’ So, about a week before I started chemotherapy, I tried it. The first time I went, I had this huge knot in my stomach due to all the stress. Within an hour of acupuncture, that knot was gone, and I felt instantly better. It also helped me with nausea during chemo. I lost my hair during chemo, but I never once got sick.”

Dr. Keen also credits exercise during treatment, especially martial arts. “When my children were ages 5 and 8, I took them for a martial arts lesson. When I got there, the teacher asked me if I wanted to take a lesson. I said, ‘I’m too old,’ and then I was immediately introduced to a 79-yearold black belt,” she laughs. “Martial arts is fun, but best of all, it creates a fighting spirit that will help tremendously when battling breast cancer.” A fourth-degree black belt, Dr. Keen has studied Bujinkan Ninpo Taijutsu since 1990, and her experience led to the publishing of Dr. Keen’s book, “Defeating Breast Cancer: A Physician’s Story of Healing, Martial Arts and Life.” In the book, she takes readers through her journey through diagnosis, treatment and triumph and shows how martial arts inspired her to defeat cancer. The book also chronicles how she combined traditional and complementary medicine and offers the perspective of a doctor, patient and survivor.

Dr. Keen urges all women to get regular screenings and mammograms. “Nobody is untouched by this disease. The good news is that the survival rate is improving, but all women need to take control of their health,” she says. According to the American Cancer Society, women should begin monthly breast self examinations after the age of 20, and women of average risk should receive yearly mammograms starting at age 40, as well as annual clinical breast examination (CBE) by a health care provider. Women in their 20s and 30s should have CBE at least every three years. Luckily, technology has also greatly improved. In April, Advanced Radiology ( became the only outpatient imaging provider in Maryland to offer digital mammography at all of its breast centers. Digital mammography is faster, cutting exam time from 20 to 7 minutes, and since there is no film to develop, the radiologist can see the results immediately, eliminating the need for some women to return for an additional mammogram.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, Dr. Keen strongly urges you to “take advantage of every source of support – family, friends, support groups, acupuncture, prayer, counseling, Internet support groups … whatever works for you. I also advocate ‘retail therapy’ – if you’re down in the dumps, go shopping!” Also, don’t be afraid to share the news. Many women don’t want to burden their friends or family, but you need their support.”

Dr. Keen adds that she gains much support at the annual Race for the Cure event, held this year on Oct. 19 in Hunt Valley. “It’s amazing. Last year, we had 33,000 participants and with the broad streets, you can look back and see so many people. I did the race before I was diagnosed and run each year with a friend of mine, a fellow survivor, and now I serve on the Board with Komen-Maryland. I am so grateful to be alive, so now I just want to help others in any way I can.”

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