Living with MBC by Katie Strobel

In November 2022, I was diagnosed with stage four inflammatory breast cancer at the age of 28. I was completely caught off guard by this news being a young mother of three children, ages seven, five, and a year and a half. My time with them seemed to be taken away in a single sentence. I would go through four months of intense chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with skin and lymph node removal, chest wall radiation, brain radiation, and now I am receiving Enhertu chemotherapy every three weeks for the foreseeable future. My cancer started in my right breast, but quickly moved to my left breast, lymph nodes, lungs, and brain. I was breastfeeding my son at the time my lump appeared and because I was breastfeeding my doctors assumed my lump was a clogged duct or a case of mastitis. As time went on, I began to realize mastitis lumps did not last eight plus months. I began to advocate for myself and found a breast specialist who would help me come to my diagnosis.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer is a rare and unfamiliar form of breast cancer. It mimics the symptoms of mastitis and most commonly does not have a lump. In my case, I did have a lump that would turn out to be a seven-centimeter tumor. It took nine months from discovering my lump to my diagnosis. I had to advocate for myself and disagree with my initial misdiagnosis. I had to find someone who would take me seriously even though I did not seem like a woman at high risk for cancer. I had no cancer in my family, I was 28, and otherwise healthy. I was denied a mammogram because of my age and due to the fact that I had all the symptoms for a breast infection. I am grateful I didn’t take no for an answer because my current doctors have been able to get ahead of my cancer. As of July, of this year, my skin removal gave me clear margins, my lymph nodes have returned to their normal size, the nodes on my lungs are actively shrinking, and I had a clear brain MRI.

I am currently living with metastatic breast cancer. The key word being “living”. When people hear the word metastatic, they usually don’t think of someone living life to the fullest but that’s exactly what I am trying to do. I used to think constantly about my future and how I would get there. But now, I have to focus on the smaller steps. I use my cancer as fuel to advocate for others like me. I want to one day be a part of the cure for women and men with metastatic breast cancer. I want to help others recognize their symptoms. I want others to see that cancer does not determine the way I live my life, I do.

Katie Strobel

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