When Rebecca Hockaday noticed a spot on her chest at the end of a summer, she told Today, she thought what many of us probably would have: "I thought, okay, a freckle on my chest. I’ve been out in the sun, no big deal."
But when the 40-year-old mother of two began to notice more and more spots appear on her chest, she went to a doctor, where a biopsy revealed that she had inflammatory breast cancer.
"Honestly, I thought they were sun spots. I thought they were going to say, 'just your skin aging,'" she told TODAY. "Never in a million years did I think, okay, this is going to be cancer."
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of cancer — according to the National Cancer Institute, it accounts for about 1-5% of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States. However, symptoms can be vastly different from what we're usually taught about signs of breast cancer. Warning signs of IBC often include swelling or redness on the breast, and sometimes, as in Hockaday's case, spots and discoloration.
"Half the time there’s no lump or anything like that," Jean Wright, MD, of the Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Program, told Today. "It’s just the kind of skin changes, and so it can relatively easily be mistaken for an infection, mastitis or something like that."
Hockaday told Fox 5 Atlanta that not realizing she had a symptom of IBC meant that she waited longer to see a doctor, which gave the cancer time to spread.
"With it being in my skin, in my lymphatics, in my lymph nodes, it was very aggressive," she told Fox.
Today reports that Hockaday went through 16 weeks of chemotherapy, had surgery to remove both her breasts, and went through intense radiation that damaged her skin and even resulted in broken ribs.
10 months later, she was declared cancer-free — and now she's sharing her story in hopes to raise awareness so that others won't have to go through what she did.
"You just do not think that something (that looks) so innocent can turn out this way. I had no pain, I had no symptoms," she told Today. "If I can keep anybody else from going through what I went through, it would mean the world to me. I hope that myself or anybody else who has gone through this can educate and raise awareness because moms tend to put ourselves last and we really need to put ourselves first."
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