Heidi Loughlin is 32 years old (“the beginning of wrinkles and yellowing teeth,” as she puts it.) She’s a police officer, mother of two children under 3, and pregnant with her third.
She was also recently diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.
Just the words “breast cancer” are scary enough for any woman to hear, especially a woman with so much to live for. But what most people outside the world of breast cancer diagnoses don’t realize is that there are a lot of different forms of breast cancer—and inflammatory breast cancer is among the scariest.
The median age of diagnosis for inflammatory breast cancer is 57 years old.
Let us remind you, Heidi is only 32.
This fast moving cancer is usually Stage III or Stage IV by the time it is diagnosed. It presents as swelling and redness at the breast, which can sometimes be mistaken as mastitis for breastfeeding mothers. In fact, that was exactly what happened to Heidi. She was breastfeeding her 5 month old when she noticed a red rash on her breast and just automatically assumed it was mastitis. When it didn’t clear up on its own, she went to a doctor two months later—he, too, told her it was mastitis.
Now, Heidi had dealt with mastitis before, and she was starting to feel like something about this rash was a little different. So she pushed, just a bit, asking the doctor if he was sure. He stuck to his diagnosis though, and sent her on her way.
But Heidi couldn’t let go of that nagging feeling that something else was going on. Ten days later, she went in for a second opinion. This doctor, a woman, gave the same diagnosis, but insisted Heidi attempted antibiotics to clear up the rash, and with instructions to come back immediately if that didn’t work.
This was around when Heidi got pregnant for the third time, not entirely on purpose, and life got a little crazy. So even though the rash failed to clear, it was a few more months before she went back to the doctor. (Because as any mom of young children will tell you, finding time to take yourself to the doctor sometimes feels like a luxury you just don’t have.)
When she did make it in, now a few months pregnant, she met with a doctor who said, “No, this doesn’t look like mastitis,” and sent her off to a breast clinic for a biopsy.
The rest is history. This young, pregnant mother is now fighting for her life against one of the most aggressive breast cancers and she is blogging her story along the way (be warned, Heidi uses plenty of profanity to express her justified frustration.)
For the record, she has fought for her baby as well, refusing the initial recommendation that she terminate. The rest of her story is hers to tell; it’s a story of grit from which all women can take something. This is a woman who can certainly use as much love and light as you might be willing to send her.
But the other important message to take away from her story? The reminder to trust your gut, especially when it comes to your health. It can be so easy to fall into such a pattern of taking care of everyone else that you forget to pay attention to what is going on with your own body, but as this mother has learned—life can change on a dime.
And sometimes, those nagging voices in your head are onto something.
Written by Leah Campbell, infertility advocate, adoptive mama, writer and editor. Find me @sifinalaska on Twitter.
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