Patient Stories

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Survivor

Michelle Fusman

  • Diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer at age 34 
  • Transferred herself to SCCA for life-saving chemotherapy and radiation treatment
  • Finds "the great in every day" regardless of how she feels

After Michelle Fusman learned she had inflammatory breast cancer in March 2006, she immediately went to the Internet to find out where she could go to get life-saving treatment.

“I want to be one of those people,” she said, referring to the cancer survivors she read about on the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance web site. “And then I want to have my story written up there, too.”

Michelle was 34 years old and a newlywed when she had a near deadly car accident in June 2005. With a sprain that ran the entire length of her spine, brain damage, and an injury to her breast (caused by the seatbelt that saved her life), Michelle spent 6 months in rehabilitation to regain the ability to walk, talk, and get back to a seemingly normal existence. “I had traction, chiropractic care, and physical therapy and was unable to work for almost four months,” she says. But during this time, her breast wasn’t healing like the rest of her body. Michelle recalls that it “was red and I often felt shooting pain.”

Her doctor relieved her worries by telling her that she was too young and too healthy to have cancer. A short time later, her psychologist repeated those words, telling her she was just experiencing anxiety from her recent accident because, in her file, her doctor had written that her breast was healing. But two months later, Michelle’s breast swelled one-and-a-half times its normal size and she knew that something was wrong and assumed she had an infection of some kind.

“I went to a friend who is a naturopath to ask her about it, and she didn’t say anything at the time, only that she thought I should go to Emergency Care,” Michelle says. “Within 48 hours, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and I realized that I needed to trust myself and become a self-advocate for my own care.”

Treatment for cure

Under the care of a local general oncologist, Michelle began a chemotherapy regimen shortly thereafter of Adriamycin and Cytoxin every three weeks. “That doctor stated that my likelihood of survival was slim,” Michelle says.

Discouraged by her doctor’s lack of hope, Michelle searched for life-saving treatments elsewhere and learned about the world-renowned care at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. She transferred her care to SCCA and began receiving treatment under the direction of medical oncologist Dr. Julie Gralow.

“Dr. Gralow changed my regime and recommended weekly chemotherapy for six months: Adriamycin weekly and Cytoxin daily by mouth for 12 weeks followed by 12 treatments of Taxol and Herceptin,” Michelle says. “Dr. Gralow also felt that given my case, I could overcome the cancer and probably live a long healthy life.”

Michelle had surgery in November 2006 followed by seven weeks of intensive radiation therapy. It was her surgeon who told her that he had treated two other IBC patients who’d had breast injuries prior to diagnosis. “There haven’t been any studies to prove there is a connection, but I find it very curious,” she says.

Cure is possible

For the nine months that Michelle received therapy, her family was there to support her. “I had days that I didn't feel well,” Michelle says, “lots of them, and I still do. And sometimes I say I don't feel well. The difference for me is that I choose to have a great day regardless of how I am feeling – every day. When I had mouth sores and couldn't eat, when I had hemorrhoids, vomiting, etc., I loved myself and chose that every day I was alive was great. It is my outlook. I find something every day to make my day great and I thank God every night for it. My son helps remind me of that. His playfulness and unconditional love help me find the great in every day regardless of how I feel.”

Co-owner of two organic salons in Seattle, when Michelle started treatment she told her daughter that she didn’t know how it would turn out. “But, I told her also that she could count on me to do everything I could to be healthy. I’ve done that and have taken on that cure is possible.”