The Ugliest Word in the English Language
Kay McQueen, age 60
Memphis, Tennessee

Forget your four letter words … May 16, 2000, I discovered the ugliest word in the English language … CANCER. I had never asked anyone with breast cancer if they had had redness. I thought the initial itching and subsequent inflammation and enlargement were typical breast cancer symptoms. Boy, was I wrong!! And that’s when the inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis slapped me in the face.

The little information I found on inflammatory breast cancer let me know that I couldn’t handle this situation alone. Believe me, I have a wonderful support network of family and friends, but even their help wasn’t enough. I turned my diagnosis over to God, and the journey began in earnest.

The next two weeks were a blur of biopsy, port insertion, entering a clinical trial for metastatic breast cancer (which saved my life as I am both “stage 4” and had “inoperable metastasis to clavicle, neck, and axilla”), and adjusting to the first day of the rest of my life. I would like to tell you that I am brave and strong, but I found myself to be quite weak in the face of this adversity. At least I acted brave.

Then one day I noticed something. I would wake very early, go out, and sit on my second floor screened porch to keep from waking my husband. Each morning a small, gray bird would light on the worn out basketball backboard in our drive. She was very plain; she lacked the bright plumage of her male counterpart. But she was such a pretty sight for me as I knew that God sent her each morning to remind me that He was with me again that day.

With reassurance, I plowed into my treatment and learned to appreciate each day and its blessings. My journey included Herceptin and Navelbine for 8 months, 19 radiation treatments (suspended because new spots popped up), change of oncologists, Femara, Herceptin and Taxotere — all these these drugs my body accepted, and I am grateful to God for each one.

Unbelievably, I have had many good days during these many months. I have just marked my two year anniversary since diagnosis!! August 4, 2001, I celebrated my 60th birthday with a large group of friends. My experience gave my friends a new perspective on age and birthdays, and as a result, they now look forward to theirs almost as much as I do to mine.

I am living each day to the fullest. In fact, I have been so busy living my life that I haven’t taken the time to sit down and write about it. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The statistics for inflammatory breast cancer are not nearly as positive as those for regular breast cancer. But you know what? I’m a person; not a number. I told my oncologist on Day One, “With your medicine and my faith, we’re going to beat this thing, so let’s get started!”

If you were to meet me, you wouldn’t know that I am sick — perhaps because I don’t feel sick. I know that I will probably need chemo the rest of my life, but I welcome it if it helps me fight this insidious disease. I plan to beat this monster, at least for a good deal longer. I keep telling my family members not to worry so much about the cancer, and to be concerned about my heart or an 18-wheeler.

Please remember:
1) There is more than one kind of breast cancer.
2) Inflammatory breast cancer doesn’t always show up on a mammogram.
3) You don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer.

And now … let’s get on with “living with cancer,” and let’s raise funds to find the cause, and then the cure, for inflammatory breast cancer. It’s going to take all of us doing our part.

Story Submitted 2001