Breast cancer survivors bond on the road to recovery

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Friends on the mend

Breast cancer survivors bond on the road to recovery

In 2011, breast cancer took Carol Belles’ hair, eyelashes and nails.

Last year, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer rendered Mandi Reddig too sick to work full time for more than a year.

But their individual battles also brought Carol and Mandi an unexpected blessing: A kindred spirit with whom to share the journey.

'I got through it with prayer’

Carol, now 75, was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer in May 2011 after a routine mammogram showed a lump in her right breast. Diagnostic tests showed the cancer had spread to 23 lymph glands.

“We were just devastated,” says Carol, whose husband of 57 years, Don, and two grown children were with her when she got the news from Patty Tenofsky, MD, a breast care specialist and surgeon at Via Christi Clinic in Wichita.

Then, drawing upon the strength of her faith, Carol went to work to map out her plan of care with Dr. Tenofsky and Terri Leschuk, her nurse navigator.

First, Carol underwent six rounds of chemotherapy under the care of Seth Page, MD, an oncologist with Cancer Center of Kansas. In October 2011, Dr. Tenofsky performed a double mastectomy and removed nearly two dozen of Carol’s lymph nodes. The following month, Carol began receiving outpatient radiation treatments under the care of Jon Anders, MD, a radiation oncologist with the Via Christi Cancer Center.

“I got through it all with prayer,” says Carol, who received the last of her 30 treatments on Dec. 31, 2011, and immediately began a five-year regimen of estrogen-reducing hormones.

After Carol’s recovery, she was asked by her veterinarian Greg Bogue, a long-time friend and fellow cancer survivor, to pray for a young woman who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

That young woman was Mandi.

Rare, aggressive breast cancer

In January 2012, Mandi was experiencing some tenderness and noticed some skin changes in her left breast. She did a self-exam and found a small lump.

The next day, she went to see her primary care physician. Because Mandi had no family history of breast cancer, her doctor said it most likely was a fluid-filled cyst but ordered an ultrasound to make sure. Mandi, who was going out of town on business, asked that it be scheduled at the end of the month.

But over the next 10 days, Mandi’s “little spot” spread like wildfire, making about a third of her breast red, hot, swollen, and dimpled like an orange peel.

An ultrasound, mammogram and other diagnostic testing at Via Christi Clinic revealed that she had a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer.

“I felt like I’d been hit by a bus,” says Mandi, who was grateful to have her mother, Mary Jo, with her when she heard the news. She was reassured by Dr. Tenofsky’s calm demeanor and by the fact that the inflammatory breast cancer had been caught before reaching an advanced stage.

Mandi had just started chemotherapy when her dachshund hurt its back. When her veterinarian — also Dr. Bogue — found out about Mandi’s cancer, he told her about the cancer support group at his church.

Praying it forward

Not long after, Carol met Mandi at the support group and discovered that she was the woman for whom she’d been praying, and that they both were patients of Dr. Tenofsky’s and Dr. Page’s.

Mandi, now 38, says Carol was a godsend, faithfully calling and encouraging her when she was recovering between treatments at her parents' home in Hays.

“It meant so much to have someone to talk to who understood what I was going through, who had survived and was praying for me,” says Mandi.

After her initial round of chemotherapy, Mandi underwent a single mastectomy and radiation therapy, then continued with more chemotherapy, which she finished on Feb. 14. Mandi’s oncologist says her blood work “looks stellar.”

In May, Carol heard the words every cancer patient longs to hear: “No evidence of disease.”

But for now, she’s just taking life one day at a time, enjoying her son and daughter, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren — and Mandi.
Carol and Mandi continue to attend the support group where they met, providing hope for others whose journey is only beginning.

“What started out as the end of the world was full of hidden blessings,” Mandi says of her friendship with Carol and other cancer survivors. “I have a much more positive outlook on life.”

What is invasive lobular cancer?

Invasive lobular cancer starts in the milk-producing glands and can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.

It accounts for approximately one in 10 invasive breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. and can be more difficult to detect by mammogram than cancers that start in the milk ducts.

What is inflammatory breast cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC, is rare, accounting for about 1 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

The affected breast displays the same symptoms that may occur with inflammation, such as swelling, skin redness and an orange peel-like skin texture, but is caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin rather than infection or injury. IBC:

  • Rarely causes a breast lump and may not show up on a mammogram. 
  • Can be more difficult to diagnose because it doesn't look like a typical breast cancer.
  • Tends to occur at a younger age (average age of 52) than non-inflammatory (average age of 57).
  • Typically grows and spreads much more quickly than more common types of breast cancer.


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