Story of rare breast cancer that looks like sunburn saves nurse's life

Story of rare breast cancer that looks like sunburn, saves nurse's life

FORT WORTH - As a clinical nurse supervisor who works daily with cancer patients, Kate Watts always thought she understood their struggle.

"It's challenging with very sick patients who might be dying but I wouldn't trade it for the world,” explained Watts, 43, from the seventh floor of Texas Health Fort Worth hospital.

What this veteran nurse never expected is to become a cancer patient herself.

"I'm trying so hard to be positive. When I can't sleep or I'm just thinking about it, I just try not to let my mind go there because I'm so afraid I'll start crying and not be able to stop,” she said.

Her first symptom was subtle. She only noticed slight redness on her right breast. Kate figured it might be a bug bite from boot camp.

But a mammogram revealed two lumps and doctors quickly diagnosed her with inflammatory breast cancer.

"If I had gone in and said 'I have a skin infection,' she would have said 'Oh you probably do.' She said she never would have thought about IBC if she hadn't seen Jennifer's story,” continued Kate.

Jennifer Cordts is the mother we profiled in May. She’s the woman who wanted to warn others about inflammatory breast cancer; that rare disease that sometimes looks like a rash or sunburn.

Doctors diagnosed Cordts at stage four, which is incurable.

"Her story aired [on], I looked back, May 2nd. My symptoms started May 4. On May 5, I went to my doctor. I mean, if that's not God talking to you I don't know what is,” said Kate.

Doctors caught Kate’s inflammatory breast cancer at stage three, which is treatable.

"Immediately I was like I've got to meet her or at least get in contact with her. I didn't know how she would feel about it but I figured I want her to know she made a difference,” she explained.

One morning this month, the two women met for the first time at Kate’s home.

After hugs and wiping away tears, Jennifer and Kate, two mothers fighting the same rare cancer, spent more than an hour sharing experiences and hope.

"The biggest piece of this fight is up here,” said Jennifer to Kate pointing to her head. “If you can conquer and win that fight then everything else [you can] let the doctors and the nurses take care of.”

"It's hard to know what I know about this disease and even begin to think that somebody else is just starting the fight. I hate it. But it's so beautiful knowing that she's going to beat it,” said Jennifer to WFAA. "I wouldn't be real if I didn't say I wish mine was curable too. You know, I just want to live, too."

With a prognosis of three to five years to live, Jennifer, a wife and mother of two, is making memories.

Since her story aired in May, she and her family visited Seaworld in San Diego. Jennifer and her husband, Rob, renewed their vows at Hotel del Coronado nearby where they were first married. And they took a cruise to Alaska.

Researchers still don’t know what causes inflammatory breast cancer. But Jennifer and Kate both want more primary care doctors to learn the signs of inflammatory breast cancer in hopes of catching it earlier in women. By the time most people are diagnosed now, the disease is already stage three. Jennifer was misdiagnosed multiple times for eleven months. When an expert finally identified it in her, the cancer had spread to her spine and liver and had become stage four.

Kate is undergoing chemotherapy and faces surgery but is expected to beat cancer.

"We've had significant response to treatment. Her masses are smaller. Her lymph nodes are smaller,” said Dr. Sanjay Oommen, Texas Oncology. "She's got a very good response right now.”

Dr. Oommen works with Kate at the hospital and agreed to treat his co-worker immediately.

"I'm very hopeful about Kate. After today's examination, I was very optimistic. We've had significant response to treatment. Her masses are smaller. Her lymph nodes are smaller," added Dr. Oommen. "The biggest problem with inflammatory breast cancer is the chance of this spreading into lymph node and away from lymph nodes into Stage IV cancer is very high."

Kate, a nurse for 20 years, still works between her own chemotherapy treatments. She's now able now to empathize with fellow patients, and remains grateful to her new friend Jennifer for sharing her journey.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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