A husband and father holds his wife from behind. Standing as a rock in the midst of a disease that has taken and scarred the person he loves most in this world, his precious wife. Strength and hope from his arms surround her in love. Refusing to give up, refusing to give in, they fight. They know a cure may be just around the corner, so they press on. Each surgery, each Chemotherapy treatment, each doctor visit, fighting to keep the disease from continuing on. Holding the disease at bay, waiting for the cure that is coming. It is a valiant fight. Fought with an attitude of celebration and joy that life is precious. Life is beautiful. Life does go on. When you are told you have a disease that cannot be cured. You can choose to live.
This is the story of a rare form of Breast cancer and the fight against it. It is also the story of a husband and Father that has stood behind his wife since the first time there was an indication of a problem. A man who has been at every treatment, every appointment, and every surgery. The story of hope and courage. This is the story of Steve and Wendy Duncan.
It is 2003, Wendy has felt something was not quite right for awhile with her left breast. She was not quite sure why, yet something inside her kept telling her it wasn’t right. There was no indication of anything wrong. No lump. No reason to believe there was a problem. After all, she had just had a recent mammogram at the age of 40 that was negative. After a few months of wanting to investigate, and then noticing her breast seemed to be getting more tender, she made an appointment. By the time the appointment was to take place, Wendy had started to have a sensational pain that would shoot up under her arm and arm pit. The pain would last just a minute, but it was enough to literally incapacitate her for that moment. “At my first appointment, the nurse practitioner came in and did a very quick exam on me. After just a few touches, she said doesn’t seem to be a problem“. Upon telling her about the pain, Wendy was told by the nurse “Pain, oh that couldn’t be Breast Cancer. Breast Cancer doesn’t have any pain associated with it” “You have all the signs of a fiber cystic breast.
Wendy left that appointment feeling relieved that she was fine. If she stopped drinking Caffeine, watched her diet, ate fruits and vegetables, she would start to see a difference in the way your breast feels. Wendy started right away doing as she was told, and she did see a difference. Her breast did seem to feel better. Then, after some time, Wendy noticed a small red dot , similar to a bug bite. Around that area , she noticed her breast was not only becoming hard, it was becoming as hard as a rock.
At noticing this, Wendy made several attempts to see a doctor. Each time, the phone advisor would say, you are fine, there is no need to worry. You have had your mammogram and already been seen by someone. After a few months of being told she was fine, Wendy knew that something was drastically wrong and insisted on being seen again.
“My whole breast was as hard as a rock swollen and turning red” Wendy said.
At this next appointment, things were different. The doctor came in and upon examination decided to consult with Dr. Ernie Bodai as well. Dr. Bodai is the head surgeon at Kaiser as well as the creator of the Breast Cancer Awareness stamp. After the doctors talked with each other, Dr. Bodai came in and told Wendy “we think you have a very rare form of Breast Cancer . We need to do test now”.
Wendy’s diagnosis came that following Monday in June of 2003. She was diagnosed with a rare form of Breast Cancer called Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Inflammatory Breast Cancer is so rare that approximately only 1%-2% of all breast cancer is in this form. Due to the fact that it is so rare, it is also very hard to detect. Many times, it goes undetected until the final stages of the disease have progressed beyond possible cure. Wendy was diagnosed in Stage 4 of the disease. The last of the stages of 1-4.
Immediately, an aggressive treatment plan was established starting with Chemo-therapy and then a Mastectomy was scheduled for December that year.. “From the start, I decided I was not going to have re-constructive surgery. I also decided to have both breast removed at the same time because this type of Cancer is very aggressive. My husband Steve has been right there by my side and loves me for who I am on the inside. I decided this is who I am and I will be proud of it. As I lost my hair, Steve even shaved his own head to be like me!” stated Wendy.
Recently, Wendy noticed her skin increasingly becoming reddened. After a visit to the oncologist, it was discovered that the Cancer had spread into her Dermus.(Skin area).
The oncologist came to Wendy and Steve and said there was no cure and nothing could be done at this point. Wendy and Steve decided they have not come this far to just stop fighting. They have chosen to continue the fight in hopes that a cure will soon be found.
Wendy and Steve want people to understand the importance of early detection. “You need to recognize your own feelings and if something doesn’t seem right, take charge yourself and visit your Doctor.” My detection came in the very late stages and I firmly believe that if I would have had an earlier diagnosis it would have been so much better for my treatment process. It is a very hard type of cancer to detect, and I recognize that, but I knew something wasn’t right. My intuition was very strong on that” states Wendy.
A note from the Photographers:
Wendy and Steve showed us something that day during their session.. They showed us how to live even in the midst of a terrible hurdle in their lives. They are amazing people and Wendy has an amazing Spirit about herself. We were both taken back by her incredible smile and energy. We are also both convinced, that her attitude has carried her further than many others would have made it. It showed us how important a positive and energetic attitude can be. Wendy has an amazing persona that we are proud to have become touched by.
We realize that this image is graphic in nature. However, we both want people to truly understand the toll this disease can take. Images speak, and we believe this image tells and shows an amazing story of courage and strength. We hope you look at it that way, for as Wendy states, these are scars she is proud of. She is proud of who she is and the fight she has maintained. Wendy and Steve, we are proud of you as well. Thank you for your boldness and touching our lives so dramatically. We are sure, your story and this image will speak to many.
Ally and David