Helping and healing with her breast cancer story

Stepping up to the plate has never been difficult for Tiffany Bentley. She is a busy working mom of two, a dedicated daughter, sister, niece and friend. Being in front of people, including at her beloved job, was a regular occurrence. However, on May 13, 2022, Tiffany was super nervous. This time, she was in front of thousands of Detroit Tigers fans as she threw out the first pitch in Comerica Park during Karmanos Cancer Institute and McLaren Health Care’s annual Pink Out the Park game to honor breast cancer survivors.

“What if I fall? What if the ball doesn’t make it across the home plate?’ That’s what was going through my mind,” she said. “But I also kept thinking about how it was when I was first diagnosed and how strangers who would share their breast cancer stories with me helped me through my journey. If I could tell my story and help someone else, I wanted to pay it forward.”

Bentley is a six-year breast cancer survivor. In 2016, when she was 37, during a routine breast exam as part of her annual gynecology appointment, her doctor felt what he thought was a cyst and immediately recommended a mammogram. The doctor reassured Bentley, who had never had cancer and had no family history of cancer, that everything would be fine.

“When I got the mammogram, I could tell by the mammographer’s facial expression that something wasn’t quite right,” Bentley said. “I was told I needed to see a doctor, which I did that same day.”

The mammogram revealed not only the cyst but also calcifications from Bentley’s rib cage to the tip of her nipple. Calcification occurs when calcium salt builds up in body tissue.

“They were in a straight line. They had formed a path,” Bentley explained.

Within days, she had a biopsy of the cysts and calcifications. Then, she began the two-week waiting game of anticipating the biopsy results.

“I was a wreck! I didn’t tell anyone what I was going through because I didn’t want to alarm my family. I had two babies! I was working. I felt shaken in my faith, yet I was able to put on a happy face so that nobody knew what was going on.”

The call with her results came while Bentley was leading a meeting at work.

“I walked out of the meeting to take the call and it was my gynecologist. He told me that I had cancer, but he had no details. He said I would have to talk with my primary care physician, who had the full pathology report. Mind you, it was 3 p.m. on a Friday! I went numb. I walked out of my job at that moment.”

Scared and uncertain about the future, Bentley said she broke down on the drive home.

“I didn’t have any information. My gynecologist couldn’t tell me what stage cancer it was or anything. He called me back later that day and recommended that I see a doctor with whom he’d had previous personal experience. Somehow that doctor got my pathology report, and I quickly had an appointment scheduled for the following Monday.”

Bentley learned the report showed she had Stage 1 HER2-positive ER/PR-negative breast cancer. This time, she knew she could not keep this to herself.

“I wanted spiritually strong people praying and believing with me! I called my aunt and my mother. My mother urged me to get a second opinion. I also called a girlfriend who I used to work with and who had survived breast cancer.”

Coincidentally, Bentley’s friend and mom, who worked for a local hospital system at the time, recommended the same doctor at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at the Lawrence and Idell Weisberg Cancer Center in Farmington Hills. That doctor was Lydia Choi, M.D., a surgical oncologist and a Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) member. Dr. Choi was able to see Bentley right away.

“That’s how I knew it was God at work for me!” Bentley said excitedly.

Dr. Choi’s confirmation of her diagnosis gave Bentley the information she needed to forge ahead.

“I’m a project manager, so in my mind, give me the steps and we can go; we can move! Once I saw Dr. Choi and got the information, I was like, ‘OK, let’s get a treatment plan together!’” Bentley exclaimed.

Bentley elected to have a mastectomy with Dr. Choi and underwent breast reconstruction surgery simultaneously, followed by three months of chemotherapy. Her team of doctors also included Breast Cancer MDT members Guillermina Nava, M.D., breast reconstructive surgeon, and Lawrence Flaherty, M.D., medical oncologist.

“Chemotherapy with HER2 targeted therapy is standard, but total mastectomy was her decision. Women with smaller tumors can choose lumpectomy depending on the extent of disease,” Dr. Choi explained. “The majority of women who develop breast cancer, about 85%, will have no significant family history of breast cancer. Ms. Bentley had breast cancer in her 30s, which occurs in less than half a percent of women, so her case is unique.”

Dr. Choi explained that Tiffany’s early-stage cancer and HER2-positive diagnosis made her outlook for recovery strong.

“20 years ago, we would not have considered this a ‘good’ type of cancer; in general, it is a faster-growing type. However, because of recent developments in targeted therapy for HER2-positive cancer, the prognosis of women with this type of cancer is generally good.”

“There is treatment available that is highly effective for the form of breast cancer Tiffany had. We were able to give her a combination of chemotherapy with a drug called Taxol and a treatment with a medication called Herceptin,” explained Dr. Flaherty. “The chemotherapy and Herceptin are very standard recommendations.”

Bentley is thankful to the doctors, nurses and care teams at Karmanos. She recommends that anyone who receives a cancer diagnosis, “please go to Karmanos!”

“Chemo was emotionally difficult because the only thing I knew about chemotherapy was you lose your hair and feel sick all the time,” she explained. “But the Karmanos experience -- that team -- they make it feel like you’re going on a pampered vacation! They greet you by name when you walk in the door. They give you water and there are snacks! I didn’t feel like I was in a chemo treatment ward!”

Bentley said she often dressed up and put on makeup to attend her weekly treatments. On her last day of treatment, she wore a superhero costume and celebrated with the Karmanos team and her family.

“I didn’t want to go through my experience sad. I had my trying moments, but even in those moments, the Karmanos team would support and encourage me and build me back up to get through another treatment.”

According to Dr. Flaherty, Tiffany’s response to treatment was exceptional. She no longer needs to see an oncologist but must keep up with her yearly screenings.

“We have transitioned her to our women’s wellness program where one of our nurse practitioners sees her every year when she's due for her mammograms because she's no longer on any active therapy,” explained Flaherty. “Once our patients beat their cancer, we recommend that they stay active, maintain good health and ideal body weight and follow up with their practitioners and primary care doctors for other health care needs and routine screening. And, of course, we stress that they continue to have their mammograms done annually.”

During and after treatment at Karmanos, Bentley also participated in Karmanos’ education and support programs.

“I was able to go on expense-paid retreats and speaking engagements to tell my story and meet other people who were on the journey with me. To this day, I am still friends with those people. I am closer to some of those people than my blood family.”

Bentley is also very active in the social media support group formed with fellow survivors and friends she made through her experience at Karmanos. Her mission now is to help others by telling her story.

“I know cancer is the worst word you could hear, but for me, there was a blessing in it. I want to give people that hope. God has a funny way of doing things; If what He did to me helps someone else, I’m OK with that.”

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, it is important to be evaluated by an expert. There are 15 multidisciplinary teams at Karmanos; each team is entirely focused on a particular cancer and share their collective expertise to create a customized treatment plan for each patient. Visit or call 1-800-KARMANOS to schedule an appointment.