One Woman’s Journey with Inflammatory Breast Cancer by Brenda Denzler
Follow Brenda from pre-IBC diagnosis in 2009 through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and post-treatment in 2011. Here is her journey. Be sure to read her January 2019 update at the very end.
One day before my birthday in 2009, I asked a friend about my oddly red breast. The redness had persisted for two weeks and, in fact, it had gotten a bit worse during that time. She told me it sounded like inflammatory breast cancer and that I needed to get to the doctor on Monday. Ten days later, everything in my world came crashing down around me when I was definitively diagnosed with IBC.
I wanted to document this experience, so I took photos and I began a blog. Both were a way to keep people informed about what was going on, but, more importantly, they were a way for me to process everything that was happening to me. I know that a number of people have read my blog over the years. I’m pleased that now my pictures might help others who are going through, or about to go through, an encounter with IBC. The treatments are hard. The experience can be brutal. But it is doable. Here is how I did it, in pictures.
As of early 2019, I am 9.5 years out from my diagnosis. As far as we know, I remain NED. There are some subtle indications that the cancer may be returning…but if it is, we can’t find where it is, yet. So we wait and watch. After all, those subtle indications truly may be nothing at all. (Note: the waiting and uncertainty are not as hard now as they were years ago, right after my treatments had ended. But it’s not nothing, either. I think with time those of us who are fortunate enough to become NED learn to cope with the uncertainty, which probably never goes totally away.)
My general health has been a problem since my treatment. I didn’t recover like I expected to — and was expected to! Long story short, we finally discovered that I have an autoimmune condition that has been killing off my thyroid gland. Now that we’re dealing with that, I’m feeling noticeably better. I understand that thyroid problems in the wake of breast cancer treatment is not uncommon. In my case, I suspect it was an inherited proclivity for it plus the cancer treatment that sent me over the edge.
In these survivorship years, I’ve retired, become a grandma three times, become a published writer with a monthly column in a local newspaper, grown my freelance editing business, and nearly completed a book manuscript. I volunteer with my local hospice, and I often eat out with old and new friends. I’ve lost friends to this blasted cancer, and lost beloved pets to cancer and (would you believe it) to bunnies. Death is hard to accept, but if you make friends as part of an IBC community you are bound to lose some of them at times. It humbles me, that I continue to live, and makes me determined to enjoy as much of my life as I can — life that those I have cared about have been denied.
My oldest grandson (age 7.5 years) asked me this weekend to try to stay alive long enough so that he can get old enough to move out of his parents’ houses and live with me! He doesn’t know a lot about the cancer, I think, but he sees me as “old” (I’m 65). I smiled and told him that by that time, I didn’t think he’d really want to be living with his grandma…but I sure planned to be around then.