Amanda Mathis, chief financial officer of Bridgestone Americas, was just 35 when she first felt a lump in her right breast.
The young Nashville executive who describes herself as a “go-getter” immediately scheduled a mammogram but was told the shadow on the screen was just dense tissue.
Six months later, follow-up tests confirmed Mathis’ suspicion that she had breast cancer, the same disease her grandmother had faced almost 40 years earlier.
“I was running marathons, I was doing yoga…and I never felt sick. So, it was shocking to hear that it was cancer,” Mathis remembered.
The Centerville, Tennessee, native and finance professional had spent years on the corporate fast track, moving to major cities before returning to Nashville to be near her close-knit family and her family farm. A bout with breast cancer was not on her career and life agenda.
Mathis’ parents insisted that she seek care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), where her grandmother had been treated successfully for breast cancer.
She met with Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) breast cancer specialist Vandana Abramson, M.D., whom Mathis calls “one of the best doctors in the country.” Mathis said that visit was “the beginning of my road to being healthy again.”
It also marked the start of a deeper relationship with VICC and a decision to give back by joining the cancer center’s Board of Overseers, a group of independent leaders who help guide the cancer center and raise funds for its research, clinical care and outreach missions.
“It’s really important for me that my journey mean something. If I can help one person be diagnosed earlier, help one person through the research at Vanderbilt find a cure or improve treatments, or help one person financially battling the disease, then it means something,” explained Mathis.
Mathis was already deeply involved in the Nashville community, serving on the boards of several nonprofits.
“I really wanted to shift my philanthropy more toward cancer and specifically Vanderbilt, given my experience. Since joining the board I have been so impressed to learn about the cutting-edge research that’s going on in heredity and gene therapies. It’s amazing work,” Mathis said.
As a patient, she already knew about the caliber of VICC’s breast cancer clinicians and was especially impressed by the Vanderbilt Breast Center, located at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks, which offers one-stop care for most breast services.
“I think the Breast Center is amazing. Having the doctors, the infusion center, the pharmacy all together makes things very easy to access.”
Mathis appreciated that convenience during her long, complex treatment regimen. Her cancer was already advanced and had spread to her lymph nodes by the time it was diagnosed.
“Dr. Abramson said, ‘We have to treat this very aggressively. You’re young and I want you to live a good, long life, so we’re going to go after it hard,’ which is exactly how I wanted to treat it, as aggressively as possible,” said Mathis.
She received 16 rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors in advance of surgery.
In January 2015, Mathis opted to have a double mastectomy based on the family history of the disease and the stage of her cancer.
“I was so blessed and I had the best team of doctors,” said Mathis. The team included surgical oncologist Ana Grau, M.D., plastic surgeon Kent Higdon, M.D., and radiation oncologist Bapsi Chakravarthy, M.D.
Mathis said one of the things she appreciated most was the team approach to patient care.
“They were always talking. That’s very comforting to a patient to know you have a team that has your back; they’re treating you in the same way, and they have the same goal.”
Mathis also credits her family for their unwavering support.
“I would not be here today without my parents and my family support through this. My dad was my chemo buddy and he went to all of my doctor appointments.”
Her schoolteacher mother shifted to a more flexible job with the school system so she could help.
“I just can’t imagine folks without that family support and how they would be able to get through that. It really took a village. I had no worries except beating this disease, and I feel so blessed for that.”
She’s also thankful for the support from her company and recognizes that not every patient has that advantage.
“I consider myself so lucky because I work for a great company like Bridgestone. I have great insurance and never had to worry about the financial component of cancer, which is daunting for so many. I had a lot of flexibility and ability to work from home and maintained a full work load.”
Mathis hopes to repay those blessings and help others through her service and support for VICC.