Daily Herald American Cancer Society
Running for a cause Survivor's husband runs pink for breast cancer awareness

"When it hits this close to home, the impact is absolutely stunning," says Steve Hasckhe, a 51-year-old Arlington Heights resident. "My wife's inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis was more than simply a shock."

Steve Haschke dons a pink tutu and fairy wings as a Pink Streak team member during the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon.
Steve Haschke dons a pink tutu and fairy wings as a Pink Streak team member during the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon. He will race again this year on Oct. 12 in support of his wife, an inflammatory breast cancer survivor.

Steve, whose father died as a result of prostate cancer in 1996, says he was determined to do everything he could to support his wife, Pam, during the physically and mentally exhausting months to come.

"I went to every doctor appointment, accompanied her to chemotherapy, waited anxiously during surgery, yet there was always a part of me that wanted to do more," he says.

"Pam's breast cancer diagnosis had a definite impact on the entire family."

Steve's hope to "do something more" took wings in 2006 as he joined Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois' Pink Streak marathon team that runs in the Chicago Marathon while raising funds for the organization.

More than just a team, Pink Streak, Steve noted, is a movement in the fight against breast cancer, with members dedicated to running for a cause.

Many have a personal link to breast cancer - some are survivors, others spouses, family members, friends and neighbors.

"I'm a strong advocate for research into a finding a cure, particularly for inflammatory breast cancer," he says. "But while we wait for a cure, we need to provide help for those who are in treatment and surviving breast cancer each and every day."

Steve finished his first marathon in just less than four hours, raising $3,000 for Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois' programs and services. This year he hopes to channel his energy and resources and run pink for the Oct. 12 marathon.

'I didn't have a lump'

Determined, resilient and inspiring are all words which describe Arlington Heights resident Pam Haschke, who has battled inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), an advanced and accelerated form of breast cancer not usually detected by mammograms or ultrasounds.

Pam, a 49-year-old product development marketing manager, says since diagnosis she has learned "you don't have to have a lump to have breast cancer."

"It was four years ago on Memorial Day weekend when I first noticed some swelling in my left breast," she recalls. "My gynecologist thought it was odd and that I shouldn't have mastitis. He said we'd try antibiotics for one week and he wanted to see me back to make sure it got better."

Pink Streak
For more information on Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois' Pink Streak Chicago Marathon team, call (312) 364-9071.

Pam's "infection" didn't get better and within a few days she was back in her doctor's office getting a referral to a breast surgeon.

"I still wasn't alarmed or anxious since we didn't really know what it was," she says. "With no family history of breast cancer, I didn't think there was any chance that was what I had."

After an ultrasound and punch needle biopsy, Pam learned of her IBC diagnosis. "I didn't think it was possible that I actually had breast cancer," she says. "I didn't have a lump!"

Before beginning treatment at nearby Northwest Community Hospital, Haschke had bone, liver, lung and heart scans to make sure the disease hadn't spread to other organs. Sixteen weeks of dose dense chemotherapy, every two weeks, followed.

"I wasn't horribly sick, mostly just tired and achy," she recalls. "I did miss a couple of days of work, but with the support of my husband, Steve, and our son, we made it through."

A modified radical mastectomy right before Thanksgiving yielded encouraging results when only two of six lymph nodes tested positive with microscopic evidence of the disease. Thirty-five radiation therapy sessions were completed in early spring.

"I know the cancer can still come back so I continue to see my doctors every six months as we keep an eye out for recurrence," she says.

Her message to other women is one of awareness. "Be vigilant," she advises. "I did everything I was supposed to do - annual mammograms, monthly breast self-exams and still things happen. Like me, most women don't know that there doesn't have to be a lump. Breast cancer comes in many forms and the lump isn't necessarily the only warning sign!"

Inflammatory breast cancer facts

Although relatively rare - making up less than four percent of all breast cancers - inflammatory breast cancer is both aggressive and advanced. Often misdiagnosed as mastitis (a benign breast infection), inflammatory breast cancer is difficult to diagnose and lifesaving treatment is often delayed.

Experts caution the cancer can spread throughout the breast and to other parts of the body often without a detectable lump. The cancer is located in the dermal lymphatic system, a part of the immune system that protects the body against disease and infection. Cancer cells there clog lymph vessels just below the skin, causing the breast to redden and be warm to the touch.

Because there is no defined tumor, inflammatory breast cancer is not usually detected by mammogram or ultrasound exams. A skin biopsy, core needle biopsy, MRI or PET scan often are valuable diagnostic tools that help specialists make a diagnosis.

Because of its aggressive nature and delayed treatment due to difficulty diagnosing, survival rates are lower than other types of breast cancer.

For treatment, cancer is first shrunk with chemotherapy and typically followed by interventional surgery to remove the area of cancer --- typically a modified radical mastectomy. The difference is in treatment order. For inflammatory breast cancer, surgery follows chemotherapy - instead of the other way around as commonly found with early stage breast cancer.

Too often, inflammatory breast cancer is not recognized as breast cancer, but mistaken for the breast infection mastitis. It's not uncommon for women to be treated with several weeks of antibiotics before actually receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Experts caution that things like a bruise on the breast or what appears to be an insect bite can be a sign of IBC. Watch for warm, swollen breasts; if the skin on the breast is red or discolored or has a thickness; if it's dimpled or itches; if there is a consistent shooting, sharp pain; a flattened or inverted nipple and sometimes, but not always, a lump. If you notice changes in your breast, consult your physician.

Information and support are key

Support and accurate information are key for most cancer survivors, especially those like Pam Haschke, facing rare diagnosis and balancing careers, motherhood and medical appointments.

As a result of her experience, in October 2007, Pam founded a not-for-profit group to help others facing chemotherapy. Her cadre of Chicagoland Head Huggers volunteers knit, sew and crochet special "chemo caps" available free of charge to chemotherapy patients. Each month more than 200 caps are provided to oncology centers, cancer treatment centers and hospitals in the Chicago metropolitan area.

For more information, visit www.chicagolandheadhuggers.com.

 

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