WTF. Breast cancer? Me? I'm too young! Fuckkkkk. My mind jumped between every curse word I've ever heard and absolute panic. November 2021 was not a happy month. The uncertainty of waiting for a diagnosis, of scheduling test after test and waiting for results, of meeting a flock of doctors, and learning new terms (DCIS or IDC? Do you have the CHEK-2 gene?) made those four weeks in November a time warp of time passing paradoxically too slowly (when can I start drugs??) and too quickly (that test is tomorrow??). By the end of the month I had an official diagnosis: inflammatory breast cancer, one of the rarer and more aggressive forms of breast cancer. Stage 3b. Not what I expected to be hearing at the ripe old age of 32.
You basically have to throw the entire cancer book at IBC: I completed 16 chemo infusions (including the infamous red devil), had a double mastectomy, and will be doing radiation during summer 2022. I will be on targeted therapies for HER2+ status for a while, too. My doctors and nurses at New England Cancer Specialists have been amazing and wonderful.
I am participating in the 2022 Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk because fuck cancer. Because even though my treatment journey is not over, and the specter of cancer will hang over me for many years to come, I can go for a walk. Because I want to support Dana Farber's IBC and Young & Strong programs. Because after spending months reading about cancer/IBC statistics (don't do it, it's not a rosy picture), the least I can do is go outside for a walk. And you can help me!
1 in 8 women in the US will have breast cancer. It is so common. Breast cancer research needs to continue. A decade ago, the HER2 protein over-expression in my type of cancer would have made this an even more grim diagnosis. Today, targeted treatments mean that HER2+ status is a good thing (well, as 'good' as anything related to cancer can be). I'm raising money to help this type of research progress. Women's health issues are too often overlooked, or reduced to performative bullshit (helloooo, NFL players wearing pink shoes). I'm trying to avoid both of those traps: contributing to my Walk directly supports Dana-Farber's unique 50-50 balance between cutting-edge research and compassionate patient care.
I'm also walking to raise awareness about inflammatory breast cancer. It's super rare, so many people do not recognize the symptoms. IBC is clinically diagnosed, meaning it requires doctors (and patients!) to recognize symptoms, rather than being objectively diagnosed by a test. (Don't worry, there are still plenty of biopsies and invasive tests.) Most common is to be told that the breast skin will look like an orange peel. Come on, guys, for real?? What does that actually mean? For me, it meant that the pores on my left breast (hereafter knows as bad breast) looked like they got a bit bigger. It honestly looked like the prelude to a big acne breakout. Bad breast did not change color. It was not hot to the touch. And it definitely didn't look like an orange peel. So if you've made it this far, and are interested in learning more about IBC, here's a one-page document I put together, describing my physical indicators, and also detailing some of the process for trying to get a mammogram if you're under the age of 35.
Finally, I'm walking and raising money because I'm a neurotic type-A nutjob and I need something productive to focus on. I deal with things by trying to learn more and trying to take action. So this is my small attempt to take action, to have a concrete goal to focus on. And who knows, maybe my brief document on IBC will help you or someone you know. And maybe the money we raise here today will help fund -- dare we wish for, cure? -- cancers. So thanks for reading, and thanks for being part of my journey. And remember: Fuck cancer.