Inflammatory breast cancer survivor: I’m glad I went to MD Anderson
On Oct. 13, 2014, I received the news that I had inflammatory breast cancer. Everything my local doctor said right after that sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher in a Peanuts cartoon. I just went numb for about 10 seconds.
Once I got past the numbness, I felt angry and calm all at once. Unlike many women with inflammatory breast cancer, my cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram. I was almost 57 at the time, but I had no symptoms.
I wanted the cancer taken out of me immediately. And I wanted to start my cancer treatment right away — that day, if possible. But my local doctor was not moving fast enough, so I called MD Anderson. I am so happy that I did. Because MD Anderson has one of the only inflammatory breast cancer clinics in the country. And my care team there was the absolute best.
I traveled to Houston every three weeks from my home in northern Louisiana for the chemotherapy and targeted therapy. I had surgery to remove my right breast and some nearby lymph nodes in June 2015. I stayed in Houston while undergoing radiation therapy. The happiest day of my life was when I got to ring that bell at MD Anderson. I was DONE!
How I found comfort after some unexpected losses
At the time of my diagnosis in 2014, I was the only person in my family who’d ever had cancer. We didn’t know then that my brother would soon be diagnosed with prostate cancer — and die of it in 2017. And we didn’t know that my mother, who accompanied me to all of my appointments, would be diagnosed with kidney cancer — and die from complications of that disease in 2021.
Who knew that even as she was waiting for me to finish my cancer treatments, my mother should have been right there next to me, receiving her own? Those losses hit me very hard and are still very difficult for me to accept. But I’ve learned to meditate and listen to the sound of ocean waves to ease my grief.
I also find some comfort in knowing that I’ve contributed to doctors’ understanding of inflammatory breast cancer through several clinical trials I joined. For me, they only involved the collection of tissue samples. But I really wanted to participate, because I knew that others had stepped up before me in similar ways to make my treatment possible. It makes me feel good to know that I may have helped other people, too, in some small way.
What my own and others’ cancer has taught me
Facing cancer as both a patient and a family member has taught me that there’s an expiration date for everything. And every second is a miracle. So, enjoy your life while you can.
My life today is really good. I still have a little bald spot on the top of my head from the chemotherapy. But I’ve learned how to cover it up with some beautiful wigs. I also have lymphedema in my right arm, which causes pain and swelling. I wear a compression sleeve to reduce it. Fortunately, neither of those side effects keeps me from teaching preschoolers or living my life.
I’ve been cancer-free since 2015. And I am so grateful to still be here. My team at MD Anderson is the reason.
I know that my care team had many, many patients, but they always made me feel like I was the only one. And the warmth and genuine concern I felt from everyone at MD Anderson — not just my doctors, but their assistants and nurses like Wendy Brouwer and Megan Tanner — made me feel like everything was going to be OK. That still brings tears to my eyes.