At 29, Kommah McDowell was a successful young professional engaged to be married to her best friend. She worked in the financial services sector and kick-boxed to keep in shape and to relax. Then came the diagnosis of triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer. She was told she had a 5 percent chance of living two years. Here's her story ...
Kommah McDowell, a breast cancer survivor, serves as a mentor for black women who recently completed breast cancer treatment and are transitioning into the follow-up stage of their care.
For seven months, McDowell had been visiting her primary care doctor every other week complaining of pain, tenderness, swelling and a lump in her right breast. She was assured it was only a benign cyst that would go away – she was too young to have cancer. Finally, at McDowell’s insistence, the “cyst” was removed. During that surgery, the doctor found cancer.
“Unbelievably, the medical staff was not familiar with the type of cancer,” McDowell said. “They just knew it was cancer and the best course of action was to remove it immediately. Fortunately, I was able to go to City of Hope for a second opinion and treatment.”
At City of Hope, she was diagnosed with triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer. The cancer had progressed to an advanced stage. She underwent four months of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and radiation therapy. After a mastectomy on her right side, lumps formed in her left breast. They were excised, and she underwent bilateral reconstructive surgery.
Given the aggressive treatment necessary to fight the cancer, McDowell was advised that she was unlikely to ever have children. She and her fiancé shifted their plans, deciding to adopt and focusing on her treatment. Charles McDowell Jr., her then-fiancé, supported her through the months of treatment, surgeries and reconstruction. They squeezed in a wedding between chemotherapy appointments – “bald head and all.”
In time, Kommah McDowell completed her treatment, and had no traces of cancer. That amazing news was trumped by even more astonishing medical news exactly two years after her final radiation treatment: She was pregnant.
Now McDowell celebrates over a decade as a cancer survivor.
She founded the Kommah Seray Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation to educate others about the often-misdiagnosed disease and to help cancer patients find financial resources. She also serves as a peer navigator to other African-American women in treatment for breast cancer and transitioning to the survivorship stage of their care.
Where she received treatment made a difference, McDowell said.
“I had wonderful doctors orchestrating my treatment process,” she said. “With God’s guidance, my medical team was awesome and words cannot express how grateful my family and I are for my second chance at life.”
Plastic surgeon Mark C. Tan, M.D., employs a pair of innovative microsurgeries that are showing great results in treating the symptoms of lymphedema, a common complication following breast (and other) cancer surgery.