While I am the token “healthy person” among the three of us that began Choose Hope, I am always mindful of how challenging it is to have mammograms, maybe because I know too much, or maybe because the last 20 years of my life have been wrapped around the cancer community.
Asking All the Right Questions…Today
But today was mammo day, and while I was getting ready to get my breasts squeezed for all the right reasons, the tech asked me some questions – you ladies all know the ones, did I have implants (no), history of breast cancer (yes, to some degree), ever had chemo or radiation? (no, thank God). And then she asked if I had any discharge from my nipples or soreness in my breast. My ears perked up – oh, if only those questions had been asked when our late partner, Chris, was alive – she might still be here.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer’s Hidden Symptoms
For those of you sadly in the know, these are common symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer, a more aggressive form of breast cancer and often found in younger women. It doesn’t present as the common lump that we all look for – it’s a deceptive little devil. Back in 1997, I clearly remember Chris telling me about the symptoms she was experiencing. She went on about her sore, swollen red breasts, the orange peel rash, and nipple discharge. This had been going on for months and she had been to see every medical professional that insurance would allow. The dermatologist treated her for mastitis, and the primary care doc treated it like an ordinary infection. She asked over and over if it could be cancer – No, they all said. No one EVER asked those simple questions that I was asked today. Why? Because no one really knew what IBC was back then.
By the time Chris got to the UW Carbone Cancer Center, it had been over a year since the symptoms had begun. Biopsies were done on the skin and the diagnosis was made – she had IBC – stage 3B. She was 34 years old with a husband and two young children. She had a thriving business as a hair designer. Life was good…until then.
Many of you already know the outcome of my story. Sadly, Chris only lived until the young age of 40, but she truly made the most of those 6 years. She inhaled her family and made memories, all the while teaching all of us how to live with love and compassion, and how to die with grace and dignity.
So What’s My Point?
If only she had been asked the same questions I was asked when I went in, then our lives would all be so very different. But hindsight is always 20/20, so I am happy that I had the chance to answer no to those two very important questions.
It’s now a few days later, and I just opened MyChart today to see that my mammogram came back negative – I did a happy dance and thought of Chris, Linda, and all of you who have experienced the challenge and horror of hearing the ‘other words.’ I said a quick prayer of thanks and once again realized how much I love my life, and most especially my beautiful new granddaughter, Evelyn. And hopefully, when it’s Evelyn’s turn for mammograms, the questions will be even more precise – until there’s a cure.
As a side note, about 10 years ago, MD Anderson opened the ONLY Inflammatory Breast Cancer Clinic in the country, and that was a monumental push forward! So there is always hope…after all, what else would you choose?