By Debbie McKinney
On Monday, December 6, 1999, a diagnostic mammogram confirmed what a needle biopsy had found the previous Friday.
Inflammatory breast cancer... IBC.
Stunned beyond belief, we muddled our way through the chaos of the following days.
Yes, I'm only 34.
Yes, I found a lump while I was nursing my baby.
No, there's no family history of breast cancer.
Submit to all sorts of tests, wean the baby and begin chemotherapy the next week.
One day, I'm decorating for Christmas and the next I'm shopping for wigs.
After 3 months of chemotherapy, I had a double mastectomy, which led to a day worse than initial diagnosis. The pathology report showed an 8cm tumor. 12 out of 26 lymph nodes had cancer. Tumor margins were not clear.
Cancer was still in my body.
3 more months of chemotherapy with weekly infusions of Herceptin were followed by six weeks of radiation.
Scans show no cancer! Hallelujah!
Inflammatory breast cancer is a wicked, insidious strain of cancer that is little understood, almost unheard of both inside and outside of the medical community.
To better my chances of keeping it at bay, I had a hysterectomy two months after radiation. I had life-threatening complications, but pulled through.
Recently, a few people said to me, "Aren't you glad this is behind you now?"
Inside, I was angry and hurt. Then I realized that they couldn't possibly understand that this is never over. IBC likes to come back. That ball of terror sits in the pit of my stomach every three months as I wait for the results of my latest CT scan.
You have to hit this with all the big guns. I continue to get Herceptin by IV every three weeks. I take an anti-cancer pill daily that blocks estrogen from forming in my body. I take about 20 pills a day--a combination of prescriptions, vitamins and carefully researched supplements.
And now it's two years later--a milestone.
Inflammatory breast cancer is over 50% fatal within five years, and almost always fatal within ten years.
That is why I've become an IBC research advocate. I want to help find a cause for this disease so that my daughter and your daughters, sisters, mothers, wives don't have to go through this. This year, I'm making donations to the
IBC Research Foundation http://www.ibcresearch.org/donations/
in honor of loved ones for Christmas presents.
As long as I am doing well, I must try and make a difference. So, to celebrate, I went to the grocery store and bought myself a cake. I had them write "Congratulations Debbie!" on it and I took it to the Buddy Kemp Caring House. There, I threw a party for myself at my breast cancer support group meeting.
Two years out from diagnosis, I am healthy. My children are growing. My family, especially my husband and my mother, have helped me so much. I am so lucky. God has blessed me tremendously. I've met some incredibly courageous people and said goodbye to others. I continue to draw on the support of my family, church, friends, and email buddies. I thank God for each new day.
If you are looking for a holiday gift for someone who already has everything, consider a donation to the IBC Research Foundation. May you have a wonderful holiday and thanks so much for your ongoing support.