Ever since her sister was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, Natalie Jackman-Ible has been looking at her own breasts differently.
Despite her annual breast examinations and a mammograms Jackman-Ible's sister Arlene Jackman-Soverall was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) last April.
The mammograms and breast exams did not pick up any lumps because there weren't any. Although Jackman-Soverall's breasts were red and swollen, she never noticed.
It was an ultrasound, recommended by one of Jackman- Soverall's doctors that picked up the difference in density of her two breasts and confirmed she had the disease.
IBC is described as a rare disease, one in which the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. The only tell-tale sign is swollen breast that is rough to the touch in the inflamed area and looks like an orange peel.
According to cancer.gov, IBC accounts for 1 to 5 per cent of all breast cancer cases in the United States. Since mammograms don't show lumps, women are not aware that they have the cancer until the disease reaches an advanced stage.
Treatment for IBC usually means chemotherapy and mastectomy. Even after the mastectomy; a patient would need more chemotherapy and radiation.
For Jackman-Soverall and her family the IBC diagnosis was a double blow as she also found out that her previous diagnosis of septic arthritis on her knee, on which she operated, was really multiple myeloma — a cancer that starts in the plasma cells in the bone marrow which helps make blood cells.
Since IBC is such an aggressive cancer, doctors wasted no time in starting Jackman-Soverall on chemotherapy.
"They have a lot of respect for the disease so they wanted to treat with that first," Jackman-Ible said. "Thankfully the chemotherapy doesn't make her sick."
Jackman-Ible described her sister as more pensive since her diagnosis but said the 53-year-old mother of one remains professional and organised.
"We come from a family of very strong women" Jackman-Ible said.
"It is part of our heritage. Perhaps my sister may be concerned or scared but she is optimistic and talking with doctors about her treatment options.
"She even started a job recently, after being out of work for a while."
Jackman-Soverall's diagnosis has also pulled the family together even closer.
"There are four of us, two girls and two boys. We talk to each other a lot and we closely monitor her progress. My mother, being an older person, is concerned but she is also a strong woman.
The disease has also served as a wakeup call for Jackman-Ible and her other sister who have since had themselves screened for cancer.
"We now know that we that we have a history of cancer in our family. I had an aunt who died from breast cancer and an uncle who died from stomach cancer.
"I now look at myself in a different way when I stand in front of the mirror. I just don't want to miss anything. My other sister and I have also changed our diets."
Earlier this month Jackman-Ible started the Arlene Jackman-Soverall Cancer Foundation and, together with friends, kicked off a fund-raising art sale at the High Square Atrium, Dere Street, Port of Spain. The team must raise US$300,000 for Jackman-Soverall to have a bone marrow transplant, once her treatment of IBC is finished.
"We are awaiting word from her doctor for when she'd be able to get the transplant done. We would have to go to a medical institution in the United States because the bone marrow transplant is not done in Trinidad and Tobago. Can you believe that.
"We can't do anything until her treatment for (IBC) is complete. In the meantime we have to raise the funds. We don't want to be unprepared when her doctors give us the go-ahead."
Jackman-Ible's cousin Simeon Sandiford, of Sanch Electronics, will donate copies of Geraldine Connor's 'Happy Times 3' compact disc for them to sell and raise more funds. The disc was produced by Connor specifically for generating funds for charity.
"We have much more fund-raising ideas before us but we have to work them out and confirm some things.
"We still have a lot of art pieces left from the sale too. People could buy them as gifts for Christmas."
To purchase paintings that would benefit Arlene Jackman-Soverall go to the Arlene Jackman Soverall Cancer Foundation page on Facebook. To make a donation to the cause, make a deposit to RBC 110000001737158.
More about inflammatory breast cancer
Additional features of inflammatory breast cancer include the following:
Compared with other types of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer tends to be diagnosed at younger ages (median age of 57 years, compared with a median age of 62 years for other types of breast cancer).
It is more common and diagnosed at younger ages in African American women than in white women. The median age at diagnosis in African American women is 54 years, compared with a median age of 58 years in white women.
Inflammatory breast tumours are frequently hormone receptor negative, which means that hormone therapies, such as tamoxifen, that interfere with the growth of cancer cells fuelled by oestrogen may not be effective against these tumours.
Inflammatory breast cancer is more common in obese women than in women of normal weight.
Like other types of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer can occur in men, but usually at an older age (median age at diagnosis of 66.5 years) than in women.
How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed?
Inflammatory breast cancer can be difficult to diagnose. Often, there is no lump that can be felt during a physical exam or seen in a screening mammogram. In addition, most women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer have non-fatty (dense) breast tissue, which makes cancer detection in a screening mammogram more difficult. Also, because inflammatory breast cancer is so aggressive, it can arise between scheduled screening mammograms and progress quickly. The symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer may be mistaken for those of mastitis, which is an infection of the breast, or another form of locally advanced breast cancer.
Proper diagnosis and staging of cancer helps doctors develop the best treatment plan and estimate the likely outcome of the disease, including the chances for recurrence and survival.