Seymour woman with rare form of breast cancer still battling years after diagnosis

Since 2007, Carolyn Vonderwell has received a lot of bad news.

In the spring of that year, she was diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and very aggressive disease in which cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. It accounts for only 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States.

During an appointment with Dr. Bryan Schneider at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis, scans were performed to see if cancer had spread to other parts of Vonderwell’s body.

Unfortunately, a tumor was found on the right side of her brain, and she underwent gamma knife surgery.

Between that point and starting chemotherapy, a tumor on her uterus caused bleeding, so she had a hysterectomy.

Then when she started chemotherapy, she lost her long, wavy, auburn hair. It also made her feel really sick, and she had to have blood transfusions.

After some recovery time, she began radiation treatment of her brain and left breast. Her hair had started to grow back a little, but Schneider told her she would lose it all again once radiation started.

In late summer 2008, she went through DIEP flap reconstructive surgery on her left breast.

For the next few years, she traveled to Indianapolis every three weeks for Herceptin infusions, which wrap around the cancerous spot and prevent it from growing or spreading.

But in June 2011, while driving through Kentucky, she had sharp pains in her lower neck and upper back. A scan revealed cancer in that area. She was put on medication for a while, but it became too expensive, so she went back to Herceptin.

She has been taking it ever since and was doing pretty well until a recent scan showed a spot on her lung. She has an appointment Oct. 25 to check on it.

Despite all she has been through, the 50-year-old Seymour resident said a positive attitude all along has made a difference.

She initially was told she may only live a year or two after her diagnosis, but she’s still alive nine years later.

Read the full story in Friday’s Tribune and online at tribtown.com.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.