What in the World is IBC?
by Sherry Smith

In 1986, at age 35, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast. It was found by mammogram, and it was deep in my breast and mammary glands. There was a large number of cancerous areas, and a mastectomy was done. Two years later I opted for reconstruction of my left breast and reduction of my right breast. Every year I had my mammograms, and everything was fine … my last “good” one was November 1999. Never in my wildest imagination did I think breast cancer could be discovered any other way than through mammogram or by feeling a lump.

February 2000, at age 49, I began to have firmness along the incision of my right breast, but I put that off to scar tissue. In March, my breast was red and tender so I saw my physician who informed me that I appeared to have a breast infection and put me on antibiotics. The tenderness disappeared, even though I still had the firmness, redness, itchiness, and a dry flaky nipple. But, heck, I had too much to do. My daughter was graduating from pharmacy school, I was scheduled for a two-week business trip to Washington, D.C. … no time to worry about my breast. I mean, my recent mammogram had been negative for breast cancer. I thought that all those symptoms were nothing but a nuisance.

June 2000, I went to my family physician who reexamined me and told me I needed to have another mammogram and to see a surgeon … but again life was busy. No one had indicated to me that I could possibly have a very aggressive form of breast cancer, so I had the mammogram but postponed my visit to the surgeon until July. I was told I had Inflammatory Breast Cancer, but those words were not the red flag to my mind that I needed. I saw the surgeon, and a biopsy was performed. By that time, my breast was completely hard, the nipple was tender to touch, and it hurt to wear a seat belt across that area. Since the biopsy came back indicating infiltrating ductal carcinoma, the surgeon said I did not have IBC, and a mastectomy was scheduled.

My daughter, doing a pharmacy residency, talked with oncologists she knew, and she informed me that just because the cancer was in the ducts, it did not mean that I did not have IBC. She recommended I see an oncologist before surgery. Confusion reigned. Depression (over a second cancer and an impending second mastectomy) was clouding my mind.

I met with the oncologist, and after seeing the CT scans and bone scan, he informed me that I did, indeed, have IBC. I had a mediport inserted and a MUGA completed. The treatment began with 4 rounds of Adriamycin/Cytoxan. Upon completion of chemotherapy, I would have surgery, followed by 34 sessions of radiation.

To say I shed tears would be an understatement. I believe I cried buckets of tears. My mind was in a complete fog. I could not think about or comprehend what I was being told. I began researching IBC, and I couldn’t cope with all the information that I was seeing which indicated a short life span.

While undergoing A/C I decided to change surgeons for the upcoming mastectomy October 2000. Upon receiving the pathology report from surgery, I was given more bad news. In addition to the cancer being in the lymph nodes, I had no clear margins in my chest wall. The cancer encompassed the entire right breast. Needless to say, I had more chemo. This time it was Taxol with steroids. These steroids turned me into a maniac. I cried for no apparent reason, had memory loss, had to wear adult diapers. “What more could there be?” I thought. I had to have other surgery unrelated to my cancer between chemo and radiation. Finally, in February 2001, I began the 34 radiation treatments, and in April I was done with all treatment.

Life has not been easy this past year, but the Lord has been blessing me with friends and family who listen, help, and love me. I’ve made it for one year now, and I returned to the Internet to find all the information I could, which has led me to the IBC Research Foundation. I’ve also joined a Breast Cancer Support Group in my area. I have ordered IBC brochures from the Foundation, and I am zealous about getting those brochures into any woman’s hand that I can. Before my own diagnosis of IBC, I had not known that you could have a negative mammogram and not have a lump, and still have a very aggressive form of breast cancer called Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Now I, too, know what IBC is.

My prayer is that information regarding this aggressive form of breast cancer be given to all women young and old, that family physicians be made aware of this aggressive form of breast cancer, and that they would impress upon their patients the importance of seeing a surgeon immediately if it is suggested by their physician instead of postponing it like I did.

Story Submitted 2001