Breast Cancer Inflammatory

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    Mandy Whitington

    How This Holiday Season Is Different as I Face Breast Cancer

    Christmas day has always been a day free of care. As I reminisce about my past Christmas,’ I have so many amazing memories, from vacations and family gatherings to Mike’s birthday celebrations on Christmas night. As our Christmas evening came to an end in the past, I would usually be preparing for the “after party” as we awaited for the arrival of some of our closest friends. But last night I found myself trying to keep my mind busy by cleaning and getting everything in line for today. Surgery is today at 12:30 p.m. with an arrival time of 10:30 a.m. and I am a nervous wreck! It’s so strange how our world can get turned upside down in the blink of an eye. How our worries and mindset can do a total 360 in a matter of months. I am what I thought was a healthy 36-year-old wife and mother of four, who is very active and on-the-go with kids and work. Worrying from day to day how I will have enough hours in the day to accomplish every single task that needs to be accomplished. This year has been quite the storm, but I’ve finally found the calm. But (as I have learned from my past), after the storm passes and darkness becomes light, if you search far enough you can always find a rainbow. As I know the battle that lies ahead of me, I am prepared to go hard and stay fierce and beat this. Cancer was definitely not something I had planned for this year — although I have always had the worry of cancer, but not so much at this age because I still felt somewhat young. But, cancer can happen to anyone. Everything said my lumps weren’t cancerous, but after a mammogram and a biopsy, it turned out otherwise. Women, please be cautious at all ages of changes in your breasts. For me, the last few months before finding the lumps I had lots of swelling, tenderness and even swore some days I was pregnant (although my tubes are tied) —  until taking a pregnancy test proved otherwise. I even had a sore underarm and arm and found the lump in the middle of the night. Cancer was the last thing I thought I would have on my plate during my son’s senior year. But, it can’t beat me and it won’t win. Today’s surgery is a go after finding out I was nicotine-free at the plastic surgeon’s the other day (which was just one of the many upcoming mountains I must climb), but I have no doubts I can do this. After not smoking for two-and-a-half weeks I was able to move my surgery up and get in there and start this battle. Please keep my family and I in your prayers. I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and I’m also wishing you all a happy upcoming new year. Thank you to all who support me and my family and have been there for us. There’s a small village of special people (you all know who you are) with the kind words, gifts, cards, and all of the above. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart — you don’t know what it feels like to be so loved. #FriendsDontLetFriendsFightAlone #FuckCancer This post was originally published on Oh! THAT Family. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Getty Images photo via prudkov

    Trish Broome

    This Mom's Chest Rash Turned Out to Be a Rare Breast Cancer

    When 46-year-old, mother of two, Jennifer Cordts was diagnosed with a rare breast cancer in 2015, she was told she had three to five years to live. That diagnosis changed her entire outlook, and today she’s making it her mission to educate others and raise awareness for the deadly disease. Cordts’ cancer journey began 11 months prior to her diagnosis, when she first noticed a redness on her breast. During her regular exam, she showed her gynecologist the rash, but he assured her it was nothing to be concerned about. He said if it the redness didn’t go away in three months, to come back. “Three months later, I was in his office with redness accompanied by pain,” the Rockwall, Texas resident told The Mighty. “After stating that cancer ‘does not hurt’ and that the redness might be because ‘my bra was too small, I was sent on my way with a diagnosis of ‘wait and see.’” Fast forward another month, when Cordts was back in the same doctor’s office. This time her breast was getting harder, the pain was more constant and her nipple was now slightly inverted. Her gynecologist asked her what she was afraid of, and she told him she had Googled “redness on the breast” the night before. “Through tears I told him I was afraid I had inflammatory breast cancer,” Cordts said. “He convinced me that was not what I had and that he had never seen a case in his office before. He ordered a mammogram to put my mind at ease. The results came back normal.” Months passed with the redness and pain only increasing. It had now spread to her back and down her left arm. She called her gynecologist, who sent her to a general practitioner, who sent her to physical therapy for six weeks. But the pain in her back increased more. She was then sent to a breast specialist who diagnosed her with mastitis , an infection of the tissue in one or both mammary glands in the breast that typically occurs in women who are breastfeeding. “Having not nursed for over seven years, I was skeptical that this was mastitis, but I trusted the breast specialist,” Cordts said. “After all, I am not a doctor.” After ten days of using antibiotics, nothing happened, so she went back to the breast specialist and then to a breast surgeon in Dallas. After a physical examination, mammogram, sonogram, and a biopsy, Cordts was finally diagnosed in November 2015 with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare and aggressive disease in which cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. Because IBC progresses rapidly and typically does not present itself as a lump, it can’t be felt during a physical exam or seen on a mammogram. Cordt’s aggressive cancer had metastasized to her spine, causing “horrendous” back pain, and her liver. It is inoperable and incurable, and she was told she had three to five years to live. She currently undergoes radiation therapy and gets a PET scan every three months to see if the cancer has spread. Today, Cordts says she is at peace with her diagnosis because she knows she is surrounded by the love of her family, which includes her husband, 19-year-old daughter Tatiana and 8-year-old daughter Daisy Mae. When she’s not skiing, snowboarding or traveling with them, she’s making sure she’s helping the next person who may also be diagnosed with IBC. “I want to share my story with others in an effort to create some awareness and education about IBC,” she said. “I want people to talk about it. I want people to ask questions. Most importantly, I want people to push their doctors when their gut tells them that something isn’t right in their bodies.” For Cordts, it was hard to put her story out into the world because at many times she felt vulnerable and embarrassed. But when other people started contacting her, saying they had similar fears and symptoms, she knew she did the right thing. “Push past the mammogram and demand further testing until you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what is wrong,” she added. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . All photos courtesy of Jennifer Cordts

    Abby Stern

    This is the Reality of Breast Cancer, and Those Google Search Results

    How do you deal with cancer when you feel so far from being yourself? You google “feeling ugly after breast cancer.” Then you sit and say to yourself, “Self, look at that — 1,820,000 results.” At least 1,815,000 of the results will of course tell you that cancer should not define you. That your (lack of) hair and breasts is not what makes you you. Of course I know this. But 10 months into this crap disease I feel so far from myself that it’s often hard to reach deep with in to know that I’m still there. The mirror is my total enemy. I didn’t ever think I was a vain person. Then you lose your hair and gain weight and lose a boob and my god — it’s all about your looks. Vanity at its finest. I’ve treated myself to massages and pedicures. Facials and retail therapy. I take walks and hug my dog and watch HGTV to dream about beach bargain homes. The foot-long scar and the lack of hair though — it’s still there making me feel not me. The kicker is I’m done with what was supposedly the hardest part. Chemo and radiation are in the books and I’m nearing the end of the race. I gotta tell you, sometimes I feel like I’m just beginning. During treatment I had to keep going. There was no option to stop or slow down. Your emotions are so all over the place you just kind of walk the walk. But now all of that is in my rearview mirror and I’m driving back to… what walk do I walk now? Cancer made me different, whether I chose for it to or not. I see, look and feel different. And now it’s October. Because if I wasn’t reminded daily about breast cancer I now have pink ribbons and pink colored newspapers and yes, my friends, I just found out there are pink colored windshield wipers. I cannot wait to find out how many lives are being saved by a trip to Pep Boys. I do realize there will be a time when my hair will grow longer and a breast will miraculously appear after surgery and I will be done trekking to the cancer center. And maybe if I stop eating chocolate and crap there will even be a time I will stop complaining about my 20 pounds. Wait — no cancer or weight. Then what would I blog about? Not to worry. I still have tween boys. But for now, I think me and 1,820,000 other women hate the mirror. This post was previously published on Eat the Frosting First. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Thinkstock photo by Poike

    Abby Stern

    'You Will Be Scared' and Other Truths About Chemo for Cancer

    I’ve had people reach out to me over the past year asking me various questions, so here it is. Me laying it on the line. Because I have always been open and I am hoping I will help one person. Or two. You won’t say the wrong thing because saying nothing is the wrong thing. Anything is better than nothing. Sure, there are days that I hate the “How are you?” question but that’s me. Not you. That’s me hating to be a burden and being the cancer girl. It’s me hating the question because really the answer is, “I have cancer so I’m not really good, but some days are better than others.” Please don’t feel that saying anything is wrong because caring for someone’s well-being — that can never be wrong. “My friend is going through chemo. I don’t think she knows what she is in for.” Of course she doesn’t know! A few days before chemo I was talking to someone saying I was ready. I felt strong. I had this. I so did not have this. You have no idea the fatigue and crap you are going to feel, so please reach out to someone who gets this. I had two people I knew who went through chemo who gave me the nitty gritty. Sure, my oncologist prepared me, but not for the real deal. Day one of chemo my amazing nurse said, “I’m sorry but no, your hair will not just thin (hope I was holding onto). You will lose your hair.” I needed the honesty. I needed to know. The thing with reaching out to someone is that even if you are afraid you are burdening them, you’re not. Honestly, we want to help. Not just the, “Oh yea, call me if you need me thing.” Every single person I have met (cyber world or in real life) who has been through (breast) cancer has been nothing short of tremendous. Why? Because we get this. Your spouse and your best friend, of course, invaluable. But your cancer sisterhood. Nothing compares. So here we go. Here’s all the crappy stuff you’ll experience when you go through chemo: You will lose your hair. All of your hair. Enough said. You may have to have a port. Get the port. You will love the port. There will be constipation, nausea and diarrhea. A lot. Then there’s your hair and lack of. You constantly think about hair. All the time. Mirrors will be your enemy, and so will bras. You will cry a ton and curl up in a ball many a day. You will hurl because you feel sick physically or because you feel like you cannot move another step. You will often need to be picked up — literally and figuratively. You will be scared. You will feel strong and weak, all in the same day. In the same hour. You will people-watch in hospital lobbies. You will wonder if the person sporting the short haircut you have has cancer, or if she’s just sporting a short hair cut. You will feel so incredibly loved and see so much good in the world. You will see so much illness. The cancer centers you walk into will make you weep. You will love your friends and family more than you ever think you could love. You will be scared. You will count how many eyelashes you have left, hoping the last few don’t fall out, just to give you some kind of normalcy. And your brows. You will rinse your mouth with warm salt water to prevent mouth sores. You will get an itchy scalp after shaving your head and having something called folliculitis, which means “itchy scalp.” You will have your head shaved. You will start not to care about what you look like going to Target. Or maybe you never cared about what you looked like going into Target and now you really have a reason not to care. You may play the cancer card. More than once. You will miss shampoo and cry in the shower. You will put your brush in a drawer and miss it. You will hate scarves then love scarves. You will browse sections of stores you never imagined you would browse, like granny-type underwear and bras for post surgery. You will have surgery. Sometimes plural. You will touch your scalp a lot. You will begin to hate graham crackers and apple juice. You will hate the color pink. You will hate the smell of hospitals and alcohol wipes. You will hate talking about things like clean margins and stages. You will love the warm blankets the hospitals give you. You may even like the slipper socks. You will never like the johnny gowns. You will miss your breasts no matter how much you convince yourself it’s only a breast. (It’s not the breast you are missing. It’s your body you’re missing.) You may gain weight. You may enter menopause. You will have more hot flashes than a 65-year-old woman. You will fan yourself with your hand or the nearest magazine because you think you are seriously going to drown in sweat. You will have scars and bruises. Lots of scars and bruises. You will love your oncology nurses. You will love all nurses. You will find there are very few (if any) arrogant oncologists. You will be sad when you see someone starting their treatment and will hug those who are just finishing. You will give warm smiles. You will want to give back. You will want to pay it forward. You will buy yourself flowers. And shoes. And cookies. Buy yourself the cookie. Don’t say no to the cookie. Radiation will suck more than you thought it would. You will be so tired. And you will repeat yourself about how tired you are. And you will use a lot of truck driver adjectives in front of the word tired. You will download meditation apps and picture tranquil beaches and listen to ocean waves while simultaneously throwing yourself a huge pity party at 2 a.m. because you’ve become an insomniac. (You know, hypothetically that will happen.) If you used to love to read you may find you don’t have patience to read. You watch a lot of mindless TV. You stare out lots of windows. You will listen to Martina McBride sing “Im gonna love you through it” and you will cry. You will then torture yourself by listening to this over and over again. You will eat take-out meals and chocolate. You may despise the thought of chicken. And the smell. You will start to look at ingredients in your food and in your beauty products, looking for words you don’t understand and wondering if they caused your cancer. You will question your past and wonder if it was the lack of organic eggs that made you get cancer. Or the caffeine. Or because you skipped your 8 am.m. class in college. You will read blogs. Lots and lots of blogs. You will be vulnerable. You will be emotional. You will tell your best friends how much you love them. You will love fiercely. You will hug your children a lot more than you used to. (If you have teenage boys, they may not love this part.) If you have teenage boys, you will be so proud of how helpful and resilient and independent they can be when they need to step up to the plate. (And then they’ll mutter under their breath and remind you there’s normalcy around the corner.) You will snuggle a lot with your dog. Your dog will love that you are having surgery because it will get to snuggle on the couch. You will be scared. You will find strength you didn’t think you had. You will find strength because you don’t have another choice. You will lean on and take out all of your emotions on the ones you love most. (The beauty of that? They love you most.) You will be scared. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by Yougen

    Ways to Show Support for a Recovering Cancer Patient

    It seems to me like the rest of the world is often more comfortable when they hear stories of rosy optimism and conquering disease. I figured that out early. I could post glowing optimistic stories of each new victory I overcame and I would receive endless praise. It was great, it fed my ego, but it wasn’t always honest. When I was first diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), the cancer machine whirred into action, and I was surrounded by well-meaning and compassionate people who offered to do almost anything. For someone like me, who is very self-sufficient and independent, it was difficult for me to accept the help. But I did accept the help, and I am forever grateful for it. Now that I am through the hard parts, most of the people have disappeared. Some people might be more comfortable knowing that I am healing and recovering. They might not want to hear about the days I can barely get out of bed because I am so tired from over-exerting myself, or about the difficulty I have reaching things on high shelves because my arm no longer has the range of motion it once had because of the missing lymph nodes. They might not want to hear about the struggle for breath when I am walking a block or two. They might not want to hear about the depression, or the anger, or the loneliness that inevitably creates a barrier between me and the rest of the world. They might not want to hear about the insomnia or the drug addiction that can develop because of the long drug use. And they really might not want to hear about the chance of reoccurrence or worse. When the bell has been rung, it signals the end of chemotherapy or radiation. It doesn’t signal the end. That distinction needs to be made because in the minds of loved ones, it can sometimes signal relief for them. When a cancer diagnosis is given, it can feel like a death sentence, and so the sound of the bell can sometimes feel like reprieve. It’s not. For the cancer patient, the sound of the bell is merely a beginning of a new battle. It signals the beginning of reclaiming everything that was lost when cancer ripped the ground out from beneath them. It signals the beginning of fear — the fear when the other shoe will drop, when or where the next lesion or tumor would appear, the fear of having to go through all of this again, the fear of everyone disappearing just when the next phase of the battle is beginning. These fears are realistic and can be probable. Through my own experience, there are nine things I have discovered that are the most effective ways of continually showing love and support for someone recovering from cancer. 1. Endure the loneliness and depression. Cancer survivor stories are not always depicted honestly. The positive ones that depict overcoming great odds might skip over the hard parts of struggle, frustration, isolation and depression. The most loving thing a person can do is endure that with the ones going through it. It can be a long road back. 2. If the cancer patient wants or needs to talk about their final days — their wants and desires in the event of a poor prognosis, their expectations and blessings for those left behind after they do die, or their funeral — let them. 3. Don’t just say, “I’m praying for you.” This is no way is meant to minimize the power of faith, or to imply that prayer is not warranted. But often times, this statement can be used as a means of offering comfort, and this might not always be comforting to that person. If you feel compelled to pray, then just pray. But as a means of offering comfort, more practical ways could be reaching out and asking how you can help. 4. Offer physical support or time. Cancer, as with many other major illness, can be incredibly isolating. The most effective means of offering support can be to spend time with the patient. Even just sitting in the same room saying nothing can be more powerful than all the flowery words in the world. Watching a movie, or rubbing their feet, or bringing tea and mindless conversation can be more powerful and meaningful to the cancer patient. 5. Don’t focus on the disease, but don’t gloss over it either. This one might seem like a paradox, but it’s not. Cancer can take so much from the lives of those it infects, but it shouldn’t rob a person of their identity. Where someone used to be a prolific writer, or musician, or cook, or [insert interest here] — they are still that person. But to try to forget that a person’s life was irrevocably changed by such a powerful disease is to minimize their struggle. 6. Don’t expect there to be a time limit to their grief. Telling a cancer patient to just stay positive, or to have faith, or to focus on being grateful might make the rest of the world comfortable, but not necessarily the cancer patient. If the patient is angry, let them feel that anger. The stages of grief don’t have a formulaic time frame, and it is unfair to expect that from anyone. Cancer robs so much, not just time. Though the obvious struggle might be over, the loss can sometimes have a rippling effect. A limb or a body part might have been removed, chemotherapy might have caused infertility or put a woman into early menopause, there could be a loss of cognitive functioning as a result of “chemo brain,” there could be significant weight loss or gain, there could be a loss of muscle function, there could be a loss of sexual intimacy or function, and there could be a loss of identity. These things continue to cause no end of anger, depression or sadness. It could cause the breakdown of a marriage due to stress and conflict. It could mean the loss of dreams and expectations for the future. Cancer patients find that sometimes they lose friends because of cancer. The most loving thing someone can do is allow the cancer patient to feel those things. 7. Continue to offer help. Cancer patients can often take up to a year or longer to recover after their final treatment. Fatigue is a huge symptom that is hard to overcome. Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It is an absolute feeling of moving through quicksand. It is mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. Cutting the lawn, doing a load of laundry, shoveling a driveway, going grocery shopping, or cooking dinner can sometimes take every ounce of energy from a recovering cancer patient. There are good days, and that feels like a huge victory to them, but they are often short-lived. A recovering cancer patient might skip over these basic chores other people might take for granted in favor of sleeping on the sofa watching re-runs of “Friends.” 8. Don’t minimize or ignore their fears. No one wants to admit that a loved one could face this disease again, but those fears are realistic. It would be more productive to re-direct those fears. Help them face those fears. Let them know you will be with them every step of the way, and help them develop a contingency plan in the event that the cancer does return. Knowing that they have someone to face this disease with should it return is instrumental in moving beyond it and living for today. 9. Don’t disappear. This is often the most hurtful aspect of dealing with cancer. Life does continue to move on even though the cancer patient might feel like they are living in limbo. Making a conscious effort to remain present can be the single most important thing a loved one does. The cancer patient might feel like they have been a drain on the ones around them. They are not oblivious to the extra effort that has been put forth by those around them to help support them during the chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. There may come a point where they will stop asking out of guilt or a feeling of becoming a burden, but they absolutely do still need their friends and family around them. A version of this story originally appeared on Conceived. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

    Sharing a Message in Recovery After Inflammatory Breast Cancer

    It was just supposed to be a mammogram. A few weeks earlier I had gone to my doctor to inquire about an unusual hardness behind my left nipple. I thought, in part, that I was a tad irrational. My doctor validated my fears during my first appointment and sent me for a scan. But it was only supposed to be a mammogram. I arrived at the hospital where the breast assessment clinic is located, and I was late because I had never been there before. The woman operating the machine was irritated. I was apologetic but it didn’t seem to matter. She smashed my breasts between the flat plexiglass that comprised the tortuous experience of having a mammogram, and within only a few seconds her attitude with me completely changed. I was no longer just having a mammogram, I was being sent for an ultrasound as well. I tried not to cry. I tried to contain my emotion. I felt silly crying. I didn’t have a diagnosis yet. This was all still conjecture, a possibility, a potential reality — this wasn’t something that was confirmed yet. But an ultrasound turned into a biopsy. Within the span of two hours, my life completely and irrevocably changed. It was also my son’s 18th birthday. How was I supposed to remain calm and still celebrate my son’s milestone birthday with a looming dark cloud hanging over my head and my life? It only took four days for the results to come back. Four days is nothing. Four days is insignificant in the context of a lifetime. But these four days felt like forever. It was confirmed on a Monday. I had been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. I remember sitting in the grey examination room of my doctor’s office while medical professionals conveyed the gravity of my diagnosis. My whole body shook with raw nerve. I was completely undone. In the four days between biopsy and diagnosis, I tried in vain to stay off the internet. I “Googled” survivor stories. I did not find any. I found statistics. A lot of statistics. They were grim. But I had found a blog by a woman from 2009. She was faith-filled, positive and so determined that she was going to survive. In the early days she posted a lot about her treatment, her recovery and her hopes for the future. She was honest about her struggles and about her fears, which was hard to read but I appreciated her honesty. I loved her declaration that she was going to beat this, she was going to defy the odds and survive. It was empowering to read about her defiance of this disease. But then I read the last post. It was by a family friend. They informed the readers that she had died. I threw my tablet halfway across the room. I cried. No, I sobbed. I sobbed an angry, bitter, sorrowful cry that echoed through my home. This was just the beginning. I have since survived eight rounds of chemo therapy, a left radical mastectomy, 25 rounds of radiation, and I am now in recovery. I, like the woman I wrote about above, am optimistic, defiant and determined that I will beat this disease. When they removed the breast tissue from my body, they reported that I had no evidence of the cancer in my body. They have told me that is the best possible outcome they could have hoped for. That gives me hope. But if you are reading this after I am gone, I don’t want you to despair. This disease is aggressive, but there are aggressive oncologists who are tirelessly researching new and improved methods for fighting this disease. This disease will knock you down and cause you to feel all kinds of emotions ranging from despair to anger, but when you encounter a new victory, it can give you renewed strength and hope to continue to the next phase. And there are others. There are others all over the world who are living with this diagnosis. Some have passed away. But others are bravely facing each day and surviving. Some have two years, five years, seven years, twenty-eight years — they are surviving. It is possible. Do not lose yourself to despair. I won’t sugarcoat this: IBC sucks. There are seemingly no good reports online I could find, now. But hopefully, in the future, there will be more good reports. Hopefully oncologists will have more data to compile that will provide answers. And I hope beyond hope that I too can survive, and this article is obsolete. I hope that I can continue to provide anniversary updates that announce I am still alive. I hope beyond hope that 20 years later I can say, you have hope because I am still here. But if I am not, I will tell you this: I fought and endured so that you could have answers and so that you will survive. A version of this story originally appeared on Conceived. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .