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.'