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By Nathan Pace
Hard work, passion and optimism made Maddie Riffle a tennis star at Center Grove High School, but she never thought those traits would be needed to fight breast cancer in her mid-20s.
“Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. You never forget that,” Riffle said, regarding when she was diagnosed.
Riffle bought her first house in 2015, was on the verge of hitting the five-year mark at her job and met her new boyfriend, Philippe Fernandes. It was also the year when she found a lump on her breast. Despite low odds, a biopsy came back positive for cancer.
“I feel very lucky we caught it now as opposed to the next exam a year later,” Riffle said. “Who knows what stage I would have been in.”
The good news is that her cancer was treated with conventional treatment options. Treatment consisted of regular chemotherapy sessions every three weeks. She underwent her last chemo treatment Feb. 26 but still has to have surgery to remove the tumor later this month and radiation to ensure all cancerous cells were wiped out. She is optioning for a lumpectomy as opposed to a more invasive mastectomy.
“Your rates of survival are about the same,” Riffle says about the two procedures. “I would rather have less surgery than more surgery.”
A Center Grove alumna from the Class of 2007, Riffle was All-State in tennis and graduated from Indiana University in 2011. A move to Cincinnati quickly followed when accepting a job with Proctor & Gamble as a research developer. She says she has received tremendous support from her fellow employees.
In an effort to help cope with chemo, Riffle started a blog to keep friends up-to-date. Being open has resulted in positive feedback from those who follow her story.
“If I can inspire people to do more self-breast exams, then I check that as a good thing in my book,” Riffle said. “People have read my blog and gotten genetic testing done to see if breast cancer is at high risk for them.”
Also assisting Riffle is the support system of cancer survivors at her work job. Not only did she get advice on what to ask her doctors treatment-wise, she learned about a way she could prevent hair loss through a process called cold-capping.
“The whole point of cold-capping is that when you become cold the first thing that goes numb are your extremities,” Riffle explained. “The blood only stays in the vital portions of your body. It constricts the blood vessels so that blood doesn’t get to your hair follicles, and that means the chemo doesn’t get to your hair follicles.”
For Riffle, who has never dyed her long hair, the procedure worked. While her hair is thinner and sheds easier, it has survived chemotherapy.
“I like to joke that I leave a little bit of Maddie every where I go,” she said. “I like to chalk it up as a success. The worst are the days where you wake up and see yourself in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself. If I didn’t have my hair I don’t know how I would cope with it.”
Riffle is optimistic that she will be cancer-free in a few months and return to work. But the impact will last for years as she will have to take a post-treatment drug for a decade that decreases estrogen levels, delaying when she could start having babies.
This frustration is not something Riffle will let get to her as she doesn’t question how she got breast cancer in the first place. With no family history of it and a healthy lifestyle, she knows searching for why is not important compared to what she has learned.
“People drive themselves crazy if they try to find something they are never going to find,” Riffle said. “You learn a lot about yourself when you have to go through something like this. And what you value in life too.”