By Margaret Maynard
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — This is the first of four stories that will publish in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month detailing the stories of breast cancer survivors.
ANDERSON — Kathy Erb, 66, has been in remission from inflammatory breast cancer for 10 years and considers her survival nothing short of a miracle.
"Between March and October 2003, I saw five different doctors who all told me that I had mastitis and gave me antibiotics," said Erb. "My symptoms never got any better."
"The first part of October 2003, I had a breast biopsy at the Women's Center of St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. I received a call from the surgeon saying that she found no cancer cells in the tissue she removed. A few days later, I found an enlarged nodule in my neck. Within a week I had a biopsy of the nodule and was diagnosed with cancer."
By the last week of October 2003, Erb had her first appointment with Dr. Brian Eddy, an Oncologist at St. John's Cancer Center (now St. Vincent Regional Anderson). "He took all the information available, a CAT scan, Biopsy, Symptoms," said Kathy, "and told me I had inflammatory breast cancer. I was stage 3B."
The first week of November 2003, Erb had her first chemotherapy treatment. After the second round of treatment, she lost all her hair.
"That was really hard for me," said Erb. "I took medication to prevent vomiting but I was so weak that I couldn't do anything after a while. I was the office manager at the Salvation Army and tried to keep working but had to quit. I spent most of my time in bed."
Between November 2003 and February 2004, Erb had six rounds of chemo. After a month to recuperate, she had a mastectomy in March 2004. Her left breast and 13 of her lymph nodes which tested positive for cancer were removed.
As a result, Erb has lymphedema (swelling) in her left arm. She found out about a machine called a lympha press, which she uses for about 45 minutes a day to help reduce the swelling and pressure in her left arm and hand. "I am a lefty," said Erb, "and sometimes I barely have a hand due to the swelling."
Since they found active cancer cells in Erb's lymph nodes, she needed to undergo another six rounds of Chemo following her surgery.
"In August 2004, I began three months of radiation with one week of radiation boosts," said Erb. "I also began receiving IV treatments of Herceptin."
In April 2005 Erb completed all her treatments and was told that she was in remission.
For the next two years Erb saw Dr. Eddy four times a year for follow-up exams. Now she sees him twice a year.
"Praise the Lord, I have not had any recurrence of cancer," said Erb. "Thank You Jesus, Dr. Eddy and my wonderful husband, Dave, who was there for me through the entire experience."
Support from family and friends
Erb and her husband David met at Anderson College when David was a senior and Kathy was a freshman. They dated for about five months before getting married on June 25, 1966.
They have two sons, Rich and Scott, and seven grandchildren.
David retired in 2000 after about 30 years as a Navy chaplain.
"My husband took me to all my chemo treatments except one when he had a meeting he couldn't miss."
Erb's sister, Helen Pulliam came and stayed with her while David was away on a business trip.
While staying with her sister, Erb's cancer took a turn for the worse. "I took her to the hospital and called David because things did not look good," said Pulliam. "The doctors said that Erb's survival was nothing short of a miracle. I thank God each day that Kathy is still with us."
"I'm just thankful to be alive," said Erb. "God is good. If you're still alive, it's because God's not done with you yet. I can't say I'm glad I had cancer, but I'm glad I lived through it."
More on inflammatory breast cancer According to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation (ibcresearch.org): "Inflammatory breast cancer is an advanced and accelerated form of breast cancer usually not detected by mammograms or ultrasounds. IBC can be diffuse throughout the breast with no palpable mass. Lymph node involvement is assured. IBC requires immediate aggressive treatment with chemotherapy prior to surgery and is treated differently than other types of breast cancer. IBC accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States. IBC progresses rapidly, often in a matter of weeks or months. It is either stage III or IV at diagnosis, depending on whether cancer cells have spread only to nearby lymph nodes or to other tissues as well."