After learning that she had inflammatory breast cancer, Jeannette Thurman did not do what has become second nature for many patients: She didn’t use Google to determine her odds.
Instead, Thurman leaned on her faith in God, the expertise of her doctors at UCHealth Memorial Hospital and inner strength and resiliency – traits that seem to be written into her family’s DNA.
Her family has endured a lot. Thurman’s mother had breast cancer 29 years ago and her father, a prisoner during the Korean War, lived many years with deficits from a debilitating stroke.
“There’s no wimpyness going on here,’’ she said. “And if you have a wimpy moment, you think of something else. I thought about what my parents went through, or what Jesus endured.’’
So when Thurman was diagnosed with the rare cancer, with symptoms that include breast swelling, redness of the skin and pitting of the skin that looks like the texture of an orange peel, she forged ahead.
“I’m not a fan of turning to Google for statistics,’’ she said. “And I didn’t want to know what the stats were because I figured, ‘this is my cancer;’ this is my own battle.’’
In 2014, she noticed what looked like a rash on her left breast. She went to her primary care doctor, who prescribed antibiotics. When the rash didn’t go away, Thurman went back to her doctor and asked if the red blotchy area about the size of a quarter could be inflammatory breast cancer. Her doctor ordered a diagnostic mammogram.
When the results indicated her hunch was right – that she indeed had inflammatory breast cancer – Thurman met Memorial’s Drs. Michelle DeWing and Vishal Rana, who inserted a port and began a chemotherapy regimen that began in July 2014. The chemo treatment was extremely effective, and by the time December came, doctors could find no evidence of cancer. The recommendation at that time was for removal of the breast, even if the mass was gone. She opted for a bilateral mastectomy. Radiation therapy with Dr. Jane Ridings, medical director of Radiation Oncology at Memorial, followed.
“I never really got sad or scared, my faith told me that either way I would be fine,’’ she said.
As Mother’s Day nears, Thurman and her mother remain best friends. Their belief in getting an annual mammogram is unshakable. Thurman said her daughter, who is 21, already has begun to get routine breast exams at her doctor’s office.
“Just be diligent about it,’’ Thurman said.
“Mammography is the key to early detection of breast cancer, and 3-D mammograms are a wonderful advancement in the evolution of breast cancer detection,’’ Dr. DeWing said.
UCHealth offers 3-D mammography, the most groundbreaking advance in breast cancer detection in 30 years. With conventional digital mammography, a radiologist views all the complexities of the breast tissue – such as blood vessels, milk ducts, fat, and ligaments – in one flat image. Sometimes breast tissue can overlap, giving normal breast tissue the illusion of looking abnormal.
By looking at the breast as a three-dimensional structure, radiologists get clearer and more accurate views of the tissue. For patients, this means that breast cancer can be found sooner. It also means there is less chance that a doctor will call a patient back for an unneeded “second look.”
Thurman has been cancer free for two years; her hair has grown back and she remains in her job at a local school district.
“I’m very blessed,’’ she said. “I stayed positive through the whole thing. I liked my doctors and I trusted them – that’s so important.’’