Kommah McDowell was confidently on track in her personal and professional life. At 28, she was engaged to be married and prospering in the competitive financial services industry. And she was so tough that she relieved stress through kickboxing.
Kommah McDowell holds her son, Christian (Photo courtesy of Kommah McDowell)
Then she found a lump in her right breast.
Her doctors assured her it was a benign cyst because she was “too young” to have cancer. Meanwhile, the symptoms mounted: Her nipple inverted as her right breast began swelling, becoming inflamed and painful.
McDowell insisted that her doctors remove the growth. That's when they finally confirmed what she already knew.
In July 2005, she transferred her care to City of Hope, where she had worked as a temp in college. She was diagnosed with late-stage inflammatory breast cancer — a particularly aggressive variety — and became a patient of George Somlo, M.D., co-director of the Breast Cancer Program.
Many cancer patients are given survival rate projections for five years; McDowell was told she had a 5 percent chance of surviving two years.
Given the impending bombardment of treatment, she also learned she’d probably never bear a child — and would have to wait at least two years after radiation before even trying to conceive. She and her fiancé, Charles, decided they would likely adopt and focused instead on getting her safely through treatment.
In between chemotherapy appointments, recounts McDowell, they even squeezed in their wedding with her “bald head and all.”
Kommah McDowell, center, with son Christian and husband Charles McDowell (Photo courtesy of Kommah McDowell)
Months after recovering from a radical mastectomy on her right side, McDowell found lumps on her left breast. After they were removed, she underwent reconstructive surgery.
Exactly two years after her final radiation treatment, McDowell heard more astonishing medical news: She was pregnant.
“Considering the type of cancer I had and how aggressive it was, I know he’s a miracle,” said McDowell. Her miracle baby, Christian, whom McDowell laughingly refers to as her “supervisor,” will turn 4 years old this March.
McDowell, who turned 37 this month, left the financial world to start the Kommah Seray Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation. The organization helps educate others about this often-misdiagnosed disease and finds financial resources for cancer patients, many from City of Hope.
This year marks her eighth year as a survivor. Now, besides caring for her family and running her foundation, she has even resumed kickboxing.
She recently underwent a medical exam that yielded reassuring results: no evidence of cancer. With this welcome news, says McDowell, “You can breathe.”