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Morgan Welch’s Journey Inspires Physician, MD Anderson

MD Anderson Backgrounder 10/25/07

Weeks before her wedding, Morgan Welch noticed that one of her breasts appeared to have a mosquito bite. She had absolutely no idea that it was a sign of a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer – a disease that often spreads before women realize it. After antibiotics did nothing to alleviate symptoms that she thought were caused by a breast infection, Welch was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).

Massimo Christofanilli, M.D.

“When Morgan arrived here, her cancer already was advanced,” says Massimo Cristofanilli, M.D., associate professor in The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Department of Breast Medical Oncology and Director of the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic. “She already had a tumor that had spread to the bones, a painful bone mass. It was quite a challenging tumor to start with.”

Welch received chemotherapy and improved enough to undergo surgery to remove the tumor. Doctors hoped she would improve with a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal treatment. It worked for a while and then the cancer progressed.

“We treated her for a few more months using a variety of agents, but, in the end, they did not work. Nothing we tried seemed to work. It was very difficult,” Cristofanilli says.

Welch passed away from IBC in January 2006 at the age of 24. She was the youngest patient Cristofanilli had ever treated.

“When Morgan was in the hospital the last time, I took Dr. Cristofanilli out in the hall and said, ‘For what it’s worth, don’t let this hinder you. This is a bigger fight than just for Morgan, just for us,’” says Mark Welch, Morgan’s widower. “I made him promise that he would continue to learn more about this disease and do everything he could to offer women with IBC more hope.”

Welch continuously motivates Cristofanilli in his quest for better outcomes for women with IBC:  he carries Morgan’s wedding photo in his shirt pocket every day.

MD Anderson established the IBC research program and clinic last year – both the first of their kind. Just one year later, the efforts have been renamed in memory of Welch: The Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic.

“I’m totally blown away that MD Anderson named the clinic and research program in honor of Morgan – it was so very unexpected and means so much to me and would mean the world to her,” says Mark.  “It means just as much to see how aggressively Dr. Cristofanilli and his colleagues are researching this disease.  I appreciate the tremendous effort and look forward to their progress that will, one day, make a true difference both in the lives of women with IBC and in those who love them.”

© 2012 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center