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    This is my story, and I remain grateful every day that it continues to be a work in progress.

    I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC Inflammatory Breast Cancer in February of 2007.  I noticed a little pink patch on the underside of my left breast, and got in to see my doctor.  She wanted me to get an ultrasound.  In the two weeks it took to get in, my entire breast turned red and the nipple inverted.

    I had an ultrasound on a Friday, and Dr. Harriet Borofsky did an immediate needle biopsy.  She was very compassionate and direct.  She told me that this was “very possibly” a cancer, and that the good news was that we were going to get all the information needed with that biopsy.  She made me an appointment with Dr. Jennifer Brown, a first rate oncologist and breast specialist.  She told me, “If I’m wrong, you can cancel it, but I don’t want you to have to worry about setting that up.  Let’s just get it done for you now.” During the needle biopsy I was shaking and weeping.  The technician held my hand.

    Now, knowing what I know, I can imagine being a fly on the wall and hearing,

    “Hi Dr. Brown, Harriet Borofsky.  I’ve got an IBC here, we need to get her in treatment right away.  How soon can you see her?”

    In four days Dr. Borofsky called me.  An angel stopped in to give me instructions on that day. You can read about that amazing encounter in my post, “whose life is it anyway?“.  Six days after the biopsy I was in Dr. Brown’s office getting my full diagnosis, and ten days after my ultrasound I began chemotherapy.  Dr. Brown laid it out clearly for me.

    “You have an aggressive cancer, and we’re going to treat it aggressively.  I’m optimistic because I think you will be able to handle these treatments”.   Ok.  Got it.  Handle the treatments.  Don’t let them be interrupted, keep on truckin’ till we’re done.  I am not #%& leaving the planet, what do we have to do?  Let’s do it.  I was a single parent of a 7 year old girl and a 9 year old boy.

    I was dismayed that we couldn’t just “get it off me”.  It was inoperable, and I would need to do chemotherapy first.  The PET/CT scan that we did just as we started treatment showed an 11 centimeter sheet across my left breast, and two tumors of at least two centimeters under my left arm.

    In less than a week I was beginning dose-dense chemotherapy: 8 infusions, at two week intervals instead of the standard three.  I received four infusions of Adriamycin and Cytoxan (A/C) and four infusions of Taxol.  For the last four infusions we would integrate herceptin, the relatively new (at the time) miracle drug for Her-2 cancers.  I would have that for a full year.  Then I underwent a modified radical mastectomy, which means the entire breast and all the primary lymph nodes under my left arm were removed. The sheet across my breast had shrunk to less than half a centimeter.  My doctors described my response to chemotherapy as “phenomenal”.

    The day after my surgery, I just felt so unbelievably blessed and fortunate!  I tried to express what was inexpressible with a Sharpie pen.  How fortunate that I am right-handed!  It was over a year later that I finally finished it with watercolor.

    After that, I had a few weeks to recover and began six and a half weeks of radiation.

    On the second day of my first round of chemotherapy, I hosted a head shaving party.

    When I began the first leg of my pilgrimage (that’s how I decided to see it) I got out a Sharpie and made a checklist with little boxes.  I marked out every treatment, every day I was affected by it (Wacky Wednesday, Tired Thursday, Bleak Friday, Lazy Saturday, and Comeback Sunday).  Then I checked off the boxes as I went.

    Part One was Chemotherapy.  Part Two was surgery.  Part 3 was Radiation.  Then I added the extra herceptin infusions.  Fortunately, this was not the first time I have done something really, really hard.  When I was young and crazy, in 1988, I rode my bicycle alone from Seattle, Washington to San Diego California.  That was hard too, really hard.  I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. I chose that journey, and this one I did not.  I did decide to choose how I would think about it, and most of all I decided that I would get through my treatments without interruption, whatever was required.  I understood that with an aggressive cancer like IBC, interruptions were bad news.  I determined to stay on the wave the way I’d stayed on the bike, no matter what.

    I began my “2007 Ironwoman marathon” in February of 2007, and I got my last dose of herceptin in May of 2008.  Today, in November of 2010 I am cancer free.  Certainly that could change, and part of me is superstitiously afraid that I am tempting fate to proceed with this site if there is any possibility that I will not remain a “success story”.

    So what’s that anyway?  I could go anytime in a number of ways, cancer being only one of them.  That’s true of all of us, whether we’re aware of it or not.  Perhaps it’s closer to me than to most people.  It keeps me motivated to treasure, use and enjoy every moment I am blessed to be here.

    Today I feel successful because I believe that I have completely transformed my life.  I invested a lot of energy in doing that, and a lot of tenderness. Now I do the things I love, my children are happy, I married the best husband in the world, and I am making a positive contribution to the world around me.  I have left my habit of beating myself up for my imperfections behind, in a little box that is kept far away back in 2006.

    Trite and cliche as it may sound, love really is the answer.  When I started directing that toward myself, and accepting with open arms all the love that is directed to me, my whole world became that.

    Thanks for reading.

    more!

     

    5 Responses to My IBC Story

    1. Jan says:

      What a great story…and what a great writer you are…a true inspiration for sure. Congrats on kicking cancer’s ass and on that wonderful new marriage…..wishing you 100 years of cancer free happiness!! Jan

    2. Mary says:

      Elizabeth: Thank you for sharing your story. I am deeply touched by your powerful humanity and exalting spirit. Scrolling through the story, reading each word, feeling your strength, your honesty, your fears and fearlessness, seeing your photographs that say thousands of words about you and your journey, and then coming upon your wedding picture, took me on a journey, and left me with tears in my eyes for your happiness, your beauty, your courage and your humanity. I am left feeling stronger and more inspired. Thank you. Mary

    3. Ethelyn says:

      Elizabeth: Thank you for sharing your story. I am deeply touched by your powerful humanity and exalting spirit. Scrolling through the story, reading each word, feeling your strength, your honesty, your fears and fearlessness, seeing your photographs that say thousands of words about you and your journey, and then coming upon your wedding picture, took me on a journey, and left me with tears in my eyes for your happiness, your beauty, your courage and your humanity. I am left feeling stronger and more inspired. Thank you. Mary
      +1

    4. Judy says:

      Elizabeth–what a beautiful story–you are an excellent writer and you bring life to your words. My breath is taken away, thanks for sharing.

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