Who Gets Breast Cancer and Who Survives?
JULIE TIBBITS, 33
Married, stay-at-home mom of Jessica, 4; El Dorado Hills, CA
Diagnosed in December 2002 with stage IV hormone-sensitive cancer
"I was almost eight months pregnant when my hips started to hurt. I
thought it was pregnancy related, but an MRI revealed a mass on my pelvis;
within days I learned I had breast cancer that had spread to my liver and
bones. My oncology team basically wrote me off — they gave me about a year to
live and told me to get my affairs in order. My husband and I cried for about
two hours, and then we said, 'All right, let's figure out what to do.'
"About a week later, I delivered my little girl, Jessica, and had my
ovaries removed at the same time because my cancer was driven by estrogen.
Jessica was 3 pounds, 13 ounces — small, but healthy. Word spread about my
disease, and a family friend recommended I see her oncologist at Arlington
Cancer Center in Texas. When I met him, he said, 'You're going to be there when
your daughter gets married' — that's what I needed to hear. We moved to
Arlington while I had a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
"I've been in remission now for almost four years. Yes, I get scared
when I think of the future. But while I can't predict whether my cancer will
return, I can have hope and live life."
FERNE DIXON, 42
Printing production manager; single; Rochester, NY
Diagnosed in April 2006 with stage II triple-negative breast cancer; stage IIIA
in September 2006; stage IV in May 2007
"I first found a lump in my right breast, along with some nipple
discharge, while working on a cruise ship in December 2005. The ship's doctor
said it was an infection and put me on antibiotics, but after three different
treatments didn't work, he suggested that I get a mammogram when we docked. I
thought I didn't fit the breast cancer mold — I was young and healthy and had
no family history of the disease.
"But my mammogram picked up a mass, and biopsies revealed I had cancer
in my breast and lymph node. My oncologist wasn't optimistic. He told me that
my cancer was a very aggressive form that he'd seen in a lot of young
African-American women like me. He wanted to blast it with the strongest
chemotherapy he had, and I said, 'Let's get down to business.'
"I finally finished treatment last January. In April, I started having
chest pain. Scans revealed that the cancer was back and had spread to my lungs,
lymph nodes, and chest wall. Since then, it has spread to my skin, and I have
more and larger tumors; I start chemo again in a few weeks.