Stephanie DeMoss is, in a word, strong.
She’s had to be: Not only is she a busy mom and wife who balanced motherhood with a career as a cosmetologist, she’s dealt with other, more trying struggles—like living with epilepsy and surviving a tornado that destroyed her and her husband’s home in 2012.
But in 2020, Stephanie’s resilience was put to the test—not because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of a cancer diagnosis that threatened to cut her life short.
Stephanie’s battle with cancer began in March of 2020, but at first, she thought she was just fighting off an ear infection. After seeing her general practitioner and an ENT, she was put on two rounds of strong antibiotics. Her symptoms, however, failed to resolve.
“A few days later on April 6, 2020, I was not feeling well at all,” she recalls. “Very tired, out of it, no appetite. I stayed in bed all day.
“When my husband came home, he asked how I was doing. He had trouble waking me up, which is when he called an ambulance. I was having seizures--I am an Epileptic but had not had a seizure in 13 years.”
Stephanie’s mother Pam recalls the terror of not knowing what was happening to her daughter.
“I received a call from her husband Jeff, that he called the life squad because he had trouble waking her up and was out of it. She went to the hospital and we were not allowed to go with her,” Pam recounts. “The hospital called and said they thought she had bleeding on the brain. We hated that she had to be alone….there is nothing worse than feeling useless when your child needs you the most.”
After a CAT Scan and an MRI, Stephanie’s doctors determined that she had an abnormal but benign mass near her brain. Stephanie was moved to another local hospital that specialized in neurological cases, where she had surgery that removed 90% of the tumor on April 9.
Stephanie’s memories from this time are a bit fuzzy, but she remembers clearly the moment she realized that she wasn’t dealing with a benign cyst or tumor.
“I came home on April 12, and after being home for a few days, I read my discharge papers. That when I realized I had had a tumor removed. I thought it was a cyst. Three weeks later, after the pathology report came back, we met with the surgeon who told me it was Ewing Sarcoma.”
Ewing sarcoma is a rare type of cancer, most commonly found in children or teenagers, that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones. If left untreated, the cancer can spread to other areas of the body like the lungs and bone marrow.
Stephanie’s surgeon, unable to provide more information about the diagnosis or possible treatments, referred her to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“My husband and I left the surgeon’s office, and when we got to the car, I Googled what Ewing Sarcoma was. That is how I found out I had cancer,” Stephanie says. “I cried non-stop.”
The following days and weeks, Stephanie says, were a blur.
“We met with a Cincinnati Children’s doctor who did some scans and tests,” she recalls. “Next thing I knew, I was getting a port put in and starting chemo.”
Chemotherapy is often an effective treatment for many types of cancer—the extremely powerful medicine can kill the cancer cells or prevent existing cells from multiplying. In the process, however, healthy cells (like red blood cells and platelets) can be destroyed.
Stephanie’s mother Pam remembers when the doctors indicated that Stephanie would need blood transfusions to continue her treatment. “We didn't realize that [transfusions] would be a huge role in her treatment plan,” she says. “The first time they indicated that she had to have a transfusion, it was scary.”
I cannot thank blood donors enough for saving my life!
Stephanie Cooney DeMoss
“Blood and platelet transfusions saved my life,” Stephanie added. “It was important for me to have my numbers at a certain level before I started another round of chemo.”
Stephanie required over 30 units of blood and over 25 units of platelets over the course of her treatment. It was during this time, while Stephanie was receiving potent chemotherapy cocktails and lifesaving blood transfusions, that the #StephStrong hashtag was born.
“I came up with #StephStrong because I knew I was going to have to be strong through this,” Stephanie says. “That I had to believe in myself. Saying #StephStrong helped me in so many ways!”
#StephStrong even became the rallying cry for her family and friends, who organized blood drives in her honor. Pam was awed by the outpouring of support from loved ones who wanted to give back.
“We were constantly asked by family & friends what they can do for Stephanie and her family,” she recalls. “Doug (Stephanie’s father) told his friend: ‘Prayers, and if you can, donate blood.” Shortly after that, Doug decided to contact Hoxworth and see how we can go about organizing a blood drive. We were overwhelmed with the response from our family and friends.”
Stephanie agrees, adding, “My family, friends, and support system were amazing for our first blood drive! They were by my side and helped out as much as they could.”
Pam even became a first time blood donor at the #StephStrong blood drive. “It is scary to give for the first time and I can say I was very nervous,” she says, “But blood has literally saved my daughter's life. It enabled her to continue with her chemo treatments in a timely manner which is so important to her overall care.”
The #StephStrong blood drive collected 51 units of lifesaving blood products that could help other local patients like Stephanie.
“When we found out how many people we helped, we were all so emotional,” Stephanie says. “We loved that we could help that many people.”
Stephanie and her family plan on hosting more #StephStrong blood drives in the future, to help pay it forward to other patients. It’s the least they can do, she says, because blood donations (and her treatment team at Cincinnati Children’s) have helped her defeat her cancer.
“I am in remission! On January 28, 2021, I went in for scans and tests. I met with my head doctor on January 29 and on that day, he told me that I was in remission—that I was cancer free.”
Stephanie will need to undergo testing every three months for the next few years to ensure her cancer doesn’t return, but for now, she’s enjoying time with her husband, her three children, and her incredible support system. She’s grateful for the opportunity to live her life—and she has blood donors to thank.
“I cannot thank blood donors enough for saving my life!” she says.