This post was inspired by the passing of Kate’s friend Rachel, who was taken by IBC at age 45, leaving behind her husband and young children.
Everybody knows that when diagnosed with cancer, you have a serious illness. Everybody knows that cancer treatments are hard to deal with due to side effects. Everybody knows that regular mammograms and early detection save lives. Everybody knows that cancer can be beat and you keep on living, usually as a better person.
Everybody knows what “pink” ribbons stand for and everybody knows a woman who had breast cancer and made it. Everybody has heard the news reports on the new miracle cancer drugs. Everybody has seen the celebrities bravely facing mastectomies and still looking gorgeous. Yes, everybody knows; except what everybody misses.
Cancer steals lives. Regularly. Cancer kills young women leaving children motherless. Every day. Cancer treatments have side effects that are at best annoying and at worst cause permanent dysfunction. Always. Cancer diminishes the ability to continue performing usual activities; everything from dressing and exercise to housekeeping and employment. Daily. Breast cancer in one or both breasts does not kill anyone. True. Metastatic breast cancer (cancer spread outside the breast) is a killer. True. Metastatic breast cancer is rare. False.
Today I will visit the funeral home for the death of a 45-year-old mother of two, a woman I have spent time with over the past several years. We shared a disease called Inflammatory Breast Cancer. IBC is a metastatic breast cancer that is never detected in early stages. It is aggressive because it spreads quickly and easily to bones, organs and brain. The signs of IBC are not the anomalies you have been taught to spot. IBC is rarely detected on a mammogram. Usually, there is no lump. Often, it is confused with a breast infection.
This death is the fifth women in just the past six weeks that I knew to die from metastatic breast cancer. I often wonder why I am in my seventh year of living with IBC when some younger women and mothers have been taken from their children. And I wonder how many are dying that I have never known. Metastatic breast cancer is much more common than you think. It is a debilitating condition that steals your quality of life and then your life itself. It is a killer. Breast cancer has not been beat.
We are dying, and you are not safe from this killer.
Katheen Strosser, a retired Associate Professor at Edinboro Univesity of PA, and has been living with Stage IV Inflammatory Breast Cancer since April, 2009. She is a grandmother with hopes of living a long life and buying granddaughter Grace her wedding gown.