A Local Woman Battles a Rare Form of Breast Cancer

Mary Whitcomb
Mary Whitcomb
Dr. Patricia Nishimoto
Dr. Patricia Nishimoto

SALT LAKE (KHNL) -- Every year, more than 180,000 Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer. And, less than five percent of those people, have a rare form called inflammatory breast cancer. Here's the story of how one woman is determined to beat the disease.

Mary Whitcomb is a loving wife and a mother of two. Two years ago, her life changed when she realized something was wrong with her body.

"I had a pinching tenderness in my chest," said Whitcomb. "I pushed up my shirt and there was a very large red mass, not a little lump, not a big lump, just a large red mass."

She has inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC. Whitcomb has done regular self breast exams and checked for lumps, but IBC is different because it can't be felt. And it's not easily detected with a mammogram, because IBC starts near the chest wall, and hides underneath the breast tissue.

"For IBC, usually when it's diagnosed, it's stage three or stage four," said Dr. Patricia Nishimoto, an adult oncology clinical nurse specialist at Tripler Army Medical Center. "That's an advanced cancer."

An advanced cancer that may be hard to detect, but there are some warning signs.

"They look for dimpling in the skin like an orange peel," said Dr. Nishimoto. "They look for redness. They look to see if the shape of the breast has changed."

As Whitcomb finishes another round of chemo, she said she couldn't have made it without her family's love.

"I don't believe you can make it without support," she said.

Support she'll need on this journey towards a cancer-free life.

Currently there's no early detection method for IBC. So, the best advice for women is to do regular self-exams, and if you notice anything unusual -- redness, warmth, or change in breast size -- contact your doctor. For more information on IBC and other types of cancer, click the link on this page.