Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Sister's Cancer

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.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I always though we just needed to look for lumps. Prayers going out for your sister's recovery. My mom just had a biopsy on a lump - it came back as benign. Really woke us all up though!

  2. Thanks sister is a woman of great faith, as well as the rest of our family. She appreciates all the prayers and well wishes from everyone. So glad your mom is OK.

  3. Never had a clue about IBC before Amy's diagnosis. Thanks for the post. Amy is a survivor and a woman of great faith. I am so grateful for those who have gone before, some call them pathfinders, who have done trials of meds that are now extending the lives of those with IBC and giving new hope. I hope all women will become aware of this cancer and be their own advocates. I hope they ask their doctors if they know about IBC, and be persistent if they have any signs at all.

  4. I'm so sorry to hear about your sister's struggle - she sounds like she's a strong woman, though. Stories like this scare me about what "might" happen but also give me a lot of faith that we're often strong enough to handle whatever curves life presents us with. Thanks for sharing

  5. Thanks for posting, Elizabeth. I enjoy reading your comments. She is a very strong woman and a woman of faith. She is an inspiration to me.

  6. AZ Mom,
    Hi!I would like to write a post about this and link to your post on my health blog,, in honor of breast cancer awareness month if that would be ok? I hadn't heard of I.B.C. and I'm sure there are others who need to know to.
    Please let me know if it's ok with you.


  7. Angie,
    Absolutely it would be OK with me. Even though this is not the most common type of bc, this is something that women need to know about. Thank you for offering to help!

  8. Hello Az Mom,
    I'm directed here from Angela Hurst's blogsite. I've never heard of such kind of breast cancer. Having worked in the medical field for a while now, I haven't heard of I.B.C. before. One of my characters in my blog novel that I'm currently writing is about to have a radical mastectomy when the cancer came back after being cancer-free from having it a few years back. At least this is fiction. I'll surely be praying for your sister Amy's complete recovery. Thanks for educating all of us on this subject matter.


  9. Hello again. I've linked this post to my novel blog site under the IBC list on my side bar. I also listed all the cancer links. I hope to write a short post about your article as soon as I can.

    God Bless,

  10. Thank you Tasha. This is a type of cancer that women really need to know about. It is so critical to know that you need to look for more than just a lump. Please let me know when you post...I'd love to read it. My sister would love to read it also. She will be truly blessed to know that although she is battling this disease, she can be a blessing to others by creating awareness. Thanks again. AZ Mom of Many Hats (Angie M.)

  11. Hello Az Mom,
    I finally posted an article about your story of your sister and about IBC. Thought you'd like to know.

    Good night,

  12. I wish all the best and a quick recovery for your sister. My dear aunt had breast cancer just a couple of years ago and we were so worried. It sounds like she has a great support group--excellent.

  13. You are doing a great service to get the word out about Inflammatory Breast Cancer, and helping your sister at the same time.
    My daughter was one of the people who was on trials for IBC drugs. She fought for four years, in constant chemo the entire time. She always said she hoped what she was doing would help some other young woman. I lost my beautiful little girl in August of 2008. And that is why I continue to do what I do. Take my imaginary soap box where ever I can, and try to educate about IBC.
    It is not as rare as many say, and now there is a clinic at MD Anderson in Houston Texas, just for IBC. We have come a long way in the last 5 years. But when I read and hear that so many in medical profession STILL haven't got a clue, it is frightening. I have read your sisters story and she got good fast treatment.
    Thank you again for educating and advocating about IBC. If your sis is interested there is a huge group online that she could talk to.
    Take care

    Patti Bradfield, President
    The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation


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