“My name is Bo Smith, I am 32, and I live in Sugar Land, Texas with my fiancé and son, both named James. I met my fiancé back in 2011 in West Texas. We lived and worked on a ranch. We spent a lot of our days being outdoors and staying active. In 2014, we moved to another ranch in central Texas. Once there, we started trying for a family, but nothing was happening. I was also sleeping a lot and getting extremely sick after eating. I noticed a lump in my breast and figured we didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, so it was probably a cyst and nothing more. Plus, I was 29 at the time, and I had always heard you should worry about breast cancer after the age of 50.
A few months passed, and the lump started growing faster and became extremely large, over half my breast. I kept trying to ignore what I knew was clearly not a cyst anymore. In January 2015, my fiancé proposed and to take my mind off the fear of my breast, I went into wedding planning mode. But only a month later, I decided to have it checked when it became so large, I couldn’t even ride in a vehicle anymore without horrible pain. And the breast itself was changing to a red color. I had an ultrasound and biopsy done and was told it was stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma. When I was first diagnosed with what I thought was just invasive ductal carcinoma, I truly thought my life was over. I even cried out to my doctor and fiancé, ‘my life is over. I will never be a mother.’ I made the decision to move to Houston to be treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Once there, my oncologist informed me what I actually had was stage 3 Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). An extremely rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. I was also triple negative, so there was no hormone they could target. I couldn’t even think straight. I was so numb and emotionless at that point that I couldn’t even cry. I just thought to myself, ‘well, I guess that’s it.’ I didn’t think I was going to live. My chances of survival were low, and it was nothing more than a ‘let’s see if this works’ with my treatments. Before chemo, my fertility was tested to see where it was at, and I was given a shot to try to trick my body into thinking my ovaries weren’t active anymore, because chemo targets all active organs, in hopes to preserve my fertility because there was no time to harvest eggs.
I started chemo and did 16 rounds with 6 different drugs. I then went on to have the mastectomy of my left breast but opted to keep my right breast, so I could have a chance to feed my future children. Then on to 44 rounds of radiation. After treatments, I was told there was no evidence of disease and I was in remission. In two short years, I was cleared to try to get pregnant.
Upon testing my fertility again, it was determined chemo did in fact still damage so much, and I had very little follicles left. I was told it was recommended I do IVF right away for best results, but I chose to try as naturally as possible for the first year, so they placed me on letrozole and we tried naturally. It only took two months, and just three days before Christmas, I tested, and it was positive. It was the best gift I have ever received, and I don’t think I stopped shaking for a few days!
I went on to have some complications in my pregnancy. I developed gestational diabetes and had cholestasis of pregnancy. But I enjoyed my pregnancy regardless because it was a true miracle. On August 18, I had my son. It was an emergency c section when his heart rate began to drop, but he came out healthy and screaming. I sobbed when I heard his scribes because that was a moment I was sure three years ago, I would never get. I wasn’t even sure three years ago that I would be alive.
I can’t begin to explain how this feels every day to be able to breastfeed my son, after losing one breast to cancer and being told I may not ever have this sweet boy in my arms. I am not ashamed of this body. This is what continues to remind me of how lucky I am to be here today.
I have watched so many amazing women of all ages, pass away from this horrendous disease, leaving behind families and small children. There have been moments when I experience survivors’ guilt, but I also know I have been given a great gift, and I try to remember how lucky I am. When I posted that photo, I never expected it would ever go viral. I posted my entire journey with IBC.
I shared everything with my friends and family and even strangers who happened to find my page. So, this photo was just another post, but it grew so much bigger than that.
I want women to realize that a diagnosis of breast cancer, even an extremely aggressive and rare form, doesn’t always mean your life is over. It is just another chapter, a crappy chapter, but one that leaves us coming out stronger than before. Hope always. There are miracles. As I write this, I’m holding my miracle. And he’s beautiful.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Bo Smith, 32, of Sugar Land, Texas. For more information on IBC please visit www.theibcnetwork.org. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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