I am writing this with the permission of my beautiful sister, Amy.
Several months ago, Amy noticed some changes in her breast. But, she didn't think much of it. Like many women her breasts had always been a little lopsided, so when that increased, it wasn't that concerning to her. She felt some fullness ans soreness, but she had breast fed her son when he was a baby, and the feeling felt similar to when it was time for him to nurse. Her breast looked rashy and was a little itchy, but she thought that maybe her skin was irritated from her laundry detergent.
Because of our family history, Amy had been diligent about doing self exams and had even had a clean mammogram the year prior. But when she went to her general practitioner in February 2008 for a bout of the flu, she had him look at it. That day, her doctor sent her directly to a breast surgeon and she got a diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer - IBC. That day my sister, began the fight for and of her life.
IBC is an aggressive form of breast cancer that causes the appearance of inflammation in the breast. It is usually in a later stage at diagnosis. Amy was diagnosed in stage IV. Her cancer had already metastasized to her spine, ribs and hip bone when it was found.
Immediately after her diagnosis, she went on disability leave from her job as a teacher. She very rapidly began her treatment. She began with a six session round of chemotherapy - one week of chemo and three weeks off to recover from the chemo - until all six were completed. The chemo was rough. She lost her hair and battled depression. She went through a series of shots each week to either boost her immune system, suppress a particular protein in her body or strengthen her bones.
After her first round of chemotherapy, she had a radical mastectomy. The surgeon to took all of her breast tissue, some skin and tissue from under her arm, and seventeen lymph nodes. She underwent and is still undergoing some independent physical therapy exercise to keep her mobility and to help with some nerve damage caused by the procedure.
She is currently undergoing another round of chemotherapy. This time it is three weeks of chemotherapy and one week without. She is still taking the medications to strengthen her bones and immunity, as well as the medication to suppress the protein.
Through this battle, Amy has relied on her doctors, her family, her friends and her faith. She is showing great progress. All the tests and scans that she has taken so far show that she is responding well to her treatment. We don't necessarily understand every medical term that the doctors use, but we know for now that active cancer is not visible on the scans and that it has not spread any further.
As women, we need to know our bodies and be proactive and educate ourselves about issues such as inflammatory breast cancer -IBC. We need to look at credible sources on how to detect and protect ourselves from breast cancer, a disease that affects so many.
As I said before, Amy knew her family history. She knew to have mammograms. Amy knew to look for a lump when doing her self breast exams. But knowing that information wasn't enough. Her cancer was not in the form of a lump.
Posted on the side bar is the acronym SISTER that outlines some of the visible symptoms of IBC. Please feel free to use it as a reminder of not only knowing what your healthy breast feels like, but also what it looks like. Also posted are some links to websites to help you find more information about breast cancer.