Robin was 52 years old when she noticed a pain in her right forearm that lasted several weeks and continued to get worse. At first she thought it was from walking her dogs, but then the pain moved into her armpit and her right breast started to feel heavy. She had a mammogram just 2 months prior and the results were normal. She contacted her doctor on a Tuesday, and what followed over the next three weeks was a whirlwind of testing, procedures, and treatment. She had an ultrasound on Wednesday, saw the Surgeon on Friday, had a biopsy the following Monday, the diagnosis was confirmed on Tuesday, she saw the Oncologist on Wednesday, had a PET scan Friday, a bone scan the next Monday, the port placement procedure Thursday and started chemo on Friday.
The diagnosis was Stage 3 Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) with lymph node involvement. There are no stages 1 or 2 with IBC, only 3 or 4. It is a fast moving, aggressive cancer. Robin says the significance of her diagnosis and the quick action of the medical professionals saved her. Everything had to be done quickly and it was. If it had been left up to her she would’ve moved a lot slower – thinking, plodding and then ultimately deciding. There wasn’t time for that, and she’s grateful it wasn’t left up to her.
With IBC, the first step in treatment is chemo, followed by surgery, and then radiation. She began chemo with the “red devil,” which made her very ill. She did not have any family members around for support but found that her co-workers and parents of students at the school where she worked stepped up to help her. They took her to her appointments and paid for a dog walker to take care of her beloved pets.
After five months of chemo, she had a double mastectomy. Expanders were put in and filled almost immediately. The pain was fierce, but this had to be done prior to radiation. Family and friends from all over the US and Switzerland came to help her after surgery. The radiation burned her severely. As many of us know, time passes and wounds heal. The treatment and its side-effects were necessary for her survival. She completed her treatment and then had her reconstruction done a year and a half later. Robin says she never said “why me” or got angry. She just did what she had to do to get the job done. She never lost her sense of humor either, going to chemo treatments wearing a crown, doing the royal wave and wearing a “suck it up” t-shirt. She says prayer and a positive outlook really helped.
Robin is now back to working full time. She was blessed enough to have been able to take time off during treatments. She attends support groups at both the Center for Building Hope and Sarasota Memorial Hospital. She participates in the American Cancer Society’sRelay for Life & Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks and is grateful every day that she is alive. She loves her three fur-babies and is thankful she is able to walk them again. Today she is cancer free.
What are the signs and symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)?
· Swelling of the breast, where one breast is suddenly larger than the other;
· A breast that feels warm to the touch and may look infected, itching or shooting pain;
· A dimpling of the breast skin that looks like an orange peel;
· Thickening of the skin, flattened or discolored nipple;
· Swelling in the underarm or only in one side of the neck, and lastly;
· Lumps are possible but are not common with IBC.
For more information about IBC please go to www.ibcnetwork.org