WAUPUN (WKOW) -- Traditional breast cancer is common and for most women, treatable, with good chances for recovery. But there's a type of breast cancer that's less well-known and far more aggressive. Now, a young woman from Waupun is trying to raise awareness about Inflammatory Breast Cancer at the same time she's fighting it.
Melanie Decker is checking out a new hairdo. As her mom and daughter watch on she tries out another style. Decker, 28, never thought she'd be switching wigs. But she lost her hair when she started chemo for a cancer that was hidden by the obvious. Mackenzie was born last September.
Decker said, "We had issues right away with nursing. My first child, they just assumed that it was lactation problems."
Everyone thought Melanie had troubles with some of the problems associated with nursing, like engorgement and tenderness. By January, her O.B. was concerned by the appearance of her left breast. By April, Melanie was being tested for a cancer she'd never heard of. It was stage three Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a rare, aggressive cancer that affects two percent of women.
Barbara Vaughan says, "What's troubling about inflammatory breast cancer is -- you have to look at the appearance of the breast, because it doesn't show up on a mammogram and there is no telltale lump." It can be detected with a biopsy.
Symptoms include a red, inflamed breast, and an inverted nipple. The skin may have ridges or appear pitted, like the skin of an orange. Doctor Kari Wisinski, Melanie's doctor, is a medical oncologist at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. She says medical professionals learn about IBC but often don't come in contact with it.
Dr. Wisinski says, "I think there is training in our profession that needs to be done for people to recognize these symptoms quickly and to realize that perhaps referrals to a breast center where people see this more often is warranted at an earlier point."
Melanie says, "If I had known about this cancer, then when I had to go the second time to see the doctor, I would have mentioned the inverted nipple and so swollen and hard, I could have said, you know can we test it. To make sure."
Melanie doesn't blame her doctors, but she is determined to let others know about IBC, hopefully writing a book later on. It's also for herself and Mackenzie. "When my hair started falling out I was taking a shower and my husband was at work ... and she smiled and I knew it would be fine. I was fine. So I cleaned my self up and I got out and I took care of her."
Melanie says there will be more tears and more worries but she won't be a victim. She'll be an inspiration.
Treatment for IBC is aggressive. Melanie is just about finished with chemo, and then she'll have a double mastectomy, followed by six weeks of daily radiation treatment.
For more information about the disease, visit the website of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation.