"My name is Kommah Seray McDowell and I am a walking miracle.”
It’s a dramatic introduction. But Kommah’s victory over an aggressive form of breast cancer is no less dramatic. You are a part of her victory, thanks to your generous support of City of Hope.
It began as it does for so many women, when Kommah felt a lump during a routine breast self-exam.
For seven months, she was insistent about the lump she found, Kommah recalls. “My doctor was sure it was just a cyst. She kept saying that at 28, I was too young for breast cancer.”
|“I had all the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer,” Kommah McDowell says, “but my former doctors just couldn’t recognize it.” Fortunately, City of Hope’s doctors not only recognized it, they knew how to help Kommah beat it.|
Finally, Kommah insisted on having the “cyst” removed.
“After the surgery to remove the cyst, the surgeon went to the waiting room and told my mother and my fiancé that he believed I had breast cancer. He needed to send the cyst to the lab for testing first,” she recalls her fiancé telling her. “Because of the surgeon’s uncertainty, he elected to not tell me directly, but rather my mom and fiancé.”
Two days later, the lab confirmed the presence of three breast cancer tumors. Shocked and angry, she didn’t need one of the nurses to tell her, “You can always get a second opinion.”
“Years before, I had temped in City of Hope’s bone-marrow transplant department,” Kommah explains. “And so when they said cancer, my first thought was City of Hope.”
“My story’s not over yet”
When she came to City of Hope, “things moved very quickly,” Kommah recalls. “I met with oncologists and surgeons that first day. They confirmed I had Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer, and that it had spread from the skin of my right breast to my right breast and also my right lymph nodes.
“I had almost every symptom of inflammatory breast cancer. I was basically overflowing with cancer, but my former doctors just didn’t recognize it,” she continues. “At City of Hope, they did.”
Because inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is uncommon — between 1 and 6 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses — and also doesn’t show up on mammograms and ultrasounds, it’s sadly not unusual for doctors to miss it the way Kommah’s did. It’s also fast-moving and aggressive. As a result, only 40 percent of IBC patients survive five years beyond their diagnosis. The 10-year survival rate is even lower. African-American women have a higher incidence of IBC than do women of other ethnic groups.
“Dr. George Somlo told me, ‘I am glad you are young and healthy, because we’re going to give you the toughest stuff we have.’”
Kommah began her chemotherapy on August 4, 2005, and “after that, it was appointment, appointment, appointment, appointment,” she remembers. In the middle of her ordeal, she and her fiancé were married, “bald head and all.”
They were allowed a three-day honeymoon, and then it was back to treatment. A radical mastectomy followed in December. After that, City of Hope doctors were unable to locate any remaining cancer.
A year later, two lumps were found in her left breast. Though they were non-cancerous, Kommah and her City of Hope team decided on a second mastectomy. In July 2007, Kommah had a skin-sparing left masectomy and reconstructive surgery and today is in excellent health.
In fact, Kommah and her husband recently learned they are expecting their first child — even though Kommah had been told there was less than a 30 percent chance she would ever have children.
“I have a fairy-tale story, considering I started out with Stage 4 cancer,” Kommah says. “I won’t say ‘a fairy-tale ending,’ because I’m not finished yet!”
Today, Kommah runs the Kommah Seray Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation to educate women about IBC. She credits City of Hope doctors with the knowledge to recognize this rare disease and the skills to defeat it. Thank you for making that combination possible! Please use the enclosed reply form to give another lifesaving gift today.
“When they said cancer, my first thought was City of Hope”
Kommah McDowell has a “fairy-tale story,” and your support of City of Hope is a big part of it
“I had all the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer,” Kommah McDowell says, “but my former doctors just couldn’t recognize it.” Fortunately, City of Hope’s doctors not only recognized it, they knew how to help Kommah beat it.