Cathy Williams is a cancer survivor and former patient at MD Anderson. She and a group of volunteers paint storefront windows with pink ribbons every October to raise awareness and funds for inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).
Williams began painting the ribbons on business windows in exchange for donations to breast cancer research in 2006. Despite her own diagnosis of IBC in April 2008, she has continued her efforts but now focuses solely on highlighting IBC.
I'm an inflammatory breast cancer survivor.
Easter Sunday, I celebrated four years since my diagnosis. Immediately after diagnosis, before the shock wore off, I found myself asking, "Why me?"
I have the answers
I've always been an advocate for breast cancer awareness. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32, died at 43, and two of her sisters also died of breast cancer.
At my doctor's insistence, I got my first mammogram at 28, had one every five years until I was 38 and then every year after that.
Why did I have to get breast cancer that doesn't show up on a mammogram? Why did I have to get the most aggressive and deadly form of breast cancer? Why, with my careful breast cancer screening, was I diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer?
No sooner than I had formulated the questions, I knew the answers. Because I've always been an advocate for breast cancer awareness. Because I had a perfectly normal mammogram through MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center just four months before my diagnosis of IBC, therefore was painfully aware of how sneaky this cancer is. Because I would become an even bigger advocate for breast cancer awareness, with an emphasis on IBC.
So far, I continue to be NED (no evidence of disease) and I still find myself asking, "Why me?"
As I see the beautiful young women around me who develop metastasis or who were diagnosed stage IV, and especially each time I learn that another one of these brave women has lost her life to this disease, I ask, "Why me?"
Why have I managed to survive and remain NED when so many around me have not?
It's a bit of survivor's guilt that all survivors feel at some point. I don't have the answer. I'm not better than they are. They didn't want this disease any more or less than I did. All of them fought just as hard, maybe harder for their lives. None of us ever did anything to "deserve" this disease.
So, while I quickly found the answer to "why me?" regarding diagnosis, I still occasionally struggle with the "why me?" of survivorship.
I feel I have a responsibility to those brave women who lost their battles, and in the process they taught the medical community so much about this disease. It's in large part because of them that I'm here, and I'm forever grateful. I must continue living each day to the fullest.
At times, especially during the past two years, that has been difficult to do with my history beyond IBC. It took an IBC diagnosis for me to learn that, but some people will never learn that lesson.
I continue to be a voice for IBC awareness. In joining the pioneers and other survivors of IBC, I hope to make a difference for other women. Eventually, I hope to see this disease eradicated.
Until then, education (of the medical community, as well as the general public), early diagnosis and proper treatment are the keys to long-term survival.
Painting the Town Pink for Inflammatory Breast Cancer (video)