by Cathy McEvoy
Note: This story was released on the day of Cathy’s “Rebirth” … as she had an infusion of her own stem cells that day in September 2001.
I began my relationship with breast cancer in May 1997. I found a lump on my right breast during my shower and thought it might be premenstrual swelling. When it didn’t disappear post-menstrually, I contacted my physician for a mammogram, an ultrasound, and a needle biopsy. My worst fears were realized. Infiltrating ductal carcinoma.
The news was devastating to my family and to me. Once the crying and shock were over, I had a lumpectomy, 6 rounds of chemotherapy, and 33 treatments of radiation. I finished all treatment (except for Tamoxifen) on Dec. 26, 1997. I was now ready to move on with my life.
January 2001, four years into survival, I noticed some redness on my left breast. I thought it might be pressure marks from sleeping or from my bra. Several days later, the redness appeared more intense and bumpy. I read Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book and found that my symptoms were similar to those of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I called my oncologist who saw me immediately.
When I saw my oncologist, I mentioned my fears of IBC; they were quickly dismissed when the nurse told me not to jump to such drastic conclusions. I had a mammogram and an ultrasound, and neither showed any evidence of suspicion. My oncologist prescribed an antibiotic, and I returned a week later. Upon examination, the oncologist thought the redness had decreased by 40%. After yet another week of antibiotics, I returned, and this time the doctor was more concerned with what she saw. She sent me to my surgeon, who believed I had a staph infection. I received more potent antibiotics and a directive to return in 3 weeks. During this time, my breast got worse. It was now swollen and red, and exhibited a retracted nipple. My new ultrasound showed “density” in the nipple/areola area. Even though, during the biopsy that afternoon, the surgeon felt we were dealing with an infection, he rushed the biopsy through pathology. Thursday, March 15, 2001, he called me with the grim news: Inflammatory Breast Cancer.
Once again, my family gathered around me. Oh how we cried! This couldn’t be happening again! Where would we get the courage and the strength to battle this new cancer monster? My anger at myself for not insisting on a biopsy sooner, and at the physicians for taking 7 weeks to make the correct diagnosis, was intense! Urgency was now a regular household word.
I started my first round of chemotherapy five days later. I suffered the usual effects of nausea, hair-loss, and fatigue. After my first infusion, I ended up in the hospital with neutropenia. Upon admission to the oncology floor, I cried uncontrollably. You see, I am an RN, and I remembered all too well that this was the floor where the cancer patients came once they were terminal. I guess I needed that cry because once the tears ended, I had gained a resolve to fight this thing.
I could now face the battle of my life with strength and optimism, and I had a determination to learn everything I could about this monster. I began searching the Internet for everything I could find about IBC. Most of my searches yielded little additional knowledge … until I happened upon the IBC Research Foundation site. Besides a wealth of information, I found a sisterhood among others who were in various stages of treatment, recovery, and survival. The site became a godsend to me, and I have shared it with family and friends interested in learning about IBC.
After more chemo and bilateral mastectomies, I found myself faced with making a choice between additional standard chemotherapy or high dose chemo/stem cell rescue. I was out on a limb as I was repeatedly told that the decision was up to me! So, here I was off again on another research trip. I didn’t really find any solid evidence to prove that high dose chemo/stem cell rescue would be any more effective than standard chemotherapy. However, after much time and prayer, I came to the conclusion that, psychologically, it would be a boon to my optimism, and I opted to proceed with it. Given my decision, I was transferred to the care of another doctor who had done over 50 transplants (stem cell rescues). He also had a sense of humor, enthusiasm, energy, and a bright (though realistic) outlook, which gave a boost to my family and to me. He is also a spiritual man and understands that he alone cannot heal me.
This leg of my journey began with a boatload of tests, which weren’t that bad, but the fear that they may show something negative was overwhelming. Fortunately, they all cleared the way for transplant. That’s where I am today. I entered the hospital August 28, 2001 to begin my 4 days of high dose chemo. On September 4th, I will celebrate a “rebirth” as I like to call it. I call it that because I will be re-infused with my own, stored stem cells. Since I am being “reborn,” I wonder who I will be. Any suggestions? I’ll settle for anyone in good health! I know the hdc/scr road won’t be an easy one, but with the support and prayers of family and friends – and with God’s hand in mine, I won’t be alone.
Once I’ve crossed this bridge, I will be on to 5 weeks of radiation and the all-too-familiar follow-up care and tests. I will make this journey and return a better person for the long run. I have to because I am only 53, and I have so much living yet to do. I long to grandmother my only grandchild, the light of my life, as well as all those grandchildren yet to be born into our family. I am fortunate to have a strong support system composed of my husband, 3 daughters, sons-in-law, sisters, father, other family members, friends, and of course, my fellow IBC’ers. My hat is off to them and to you as survivors and warriors of IBC. Prayers and God’s blessing to you all!
Story Submitted 2001