Diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer Weeks After Giving Birth: How Danielle Keeps Moving Forward
“I found out I was pregnant with my third child when I was still breastfeeding my toddler,” remembers Danielle. “I noticed that she was avoiding one breast, but I didn’t really think much about it at first.”
Danielle’s breast had become harder and bigger. And within a few months the skin around her nipple began to change too. Between weaning her daughter Ciara and being pregnant, she knew her body was going through a lot of changes, but this felt different. It troubled her.
She scheduled a breast exam which came up empty – no lumps, no major red flags – and left with a plan to follow-up after the baby was born. But by summer, the skin on her right breast had taken on the texture of an orange peel. She scheduled an ultrasound which also found no signs of breast cancer. None of the midwives, doctors, or nurses she spoke to were concerned.
“Penelope was born in September and I realized pretty quickly that she wasn’t getting any milk from my right side,” says Danielle. “I was referred to a breast surgeon. One look and I saw it in her eyes. She told me she was concerned it could be cancer and I just remember going limp.”
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
A biopsy confirmed Danielle’s fears; she had a rare and aggressive form of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) that lacked the common symptoms. She had no lumps, but she still had cancer. Danielle was referred to Dr. Punam Rana at Humber River Hospital to begin treatment.
“I was 39. My new baby was less than 2 months old. I weaned her over a weekend so I could start chemotherapy immediately,” remembers Danielle. “I remember endlessly researching and asking my husband ‘Can I survive this?’ He looked at me and said ‘Yes you can. You are not a statistic, stop looking at the stats.’”
It all happened very quickly, but with Dr. Rana, Danielle felt like she had all the time in the world to have her questions answered.
“Dr. Rana gave me hope. She told me I was young and healthy and could tolerate aggressive chemo to knock the cancer back. We came up with a treatment plan specialized to me,” says Danielle. “My husband came with me to my first chemotherapy appointment and the nursing staff were also amazing and patient. I was overwhelmed and emotional but they knew my name. I never felt rushed at any of my appointments. My treatments were long and hard but Humber prepared me for everything. My fingernails fell off and my hair fell out and I was prepared for it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit towards the end of Danielle’s chemotherapy treatments. It was scary, but she trusted her Cancer Care team. Surgeries across the country were being cancelled but her inflammatory breast cancer meant that her operation was high-priority. When it was her turn, she got the call that morning.
“My surgery found residual cancer and I wanted so badly to blame myself,” says Danielle. “But Dr. Rana looked at me and told me I did nothing wrong. I could see the empathy in her eyes. She told me to focus only on moving forward.”
Moving Forward, One Moment at a Time
Since then, Danielle has continued her treatment. There has been pain, side effects, and setbacks, but through it all she is moving forward one moment at a time. Her husband Aaron and three beautiful kids Cameron, Ciara, and Penelope help her hold on to hope and she has made it an intention to find gratitude in every day. She is grateful for Dr. Rana, Dr. Whiteacre, Sherrill her social worker, Alex the Child Life Specialist, her radiation oncologists, and Nav, Kim, Vondell, Mark, Mary, Carla and the many truly incredible nurses and technicians she has worked with.
Danielle volunteers her time to be involved with Humber’s Cancer Care Patient and Family Advisory Council and was instrumental in starting the Peer Support Group to help other patients like her.
“At the beginning of my treatment I just wanted to talk to someone, anyone, who had survived more than five years,” she says. “I want to tell patients like me that I know they’re in a dark place, but to not believe the stats. You are not a statistic. And you can keep moving forward.”