Me? No, not possible! I’m only 26, I can’t have cancer!!! At 26 years of age we like to consider ourselves to be “mature adults,” but really, a 26 year old is entirely too young to be faced with cancer. On September 14, 2011, Tory Brumm-Ward had to face this all too mature of a reality as she was diagnosed with Angiosarcoma of the Breast. For the past year, doctors told Tory she was “too young for cancer” and the lump in her breast was a muscle tear. By the time Tory was diagnosed she was a full cup size larger, had pain in her neck from all the weight and was bruised (her cancer causes bruising). Finally a doctor diagnosed her (although a relief because she finally had answers, it was a devastating relief). Cancer at 26?!?! It was almost too hard to believe.
Angiosarcoma of the breast is an extremely rare and aggressive soft tissue cancer that affects 4.6 out of 1 million breast cancer patients. Angiosarcoma occurs in vessel walls and can therefore be found anywhere with blood supply with common places being the breast, spleen and liver. More often this cancer appears in breast cancer survivors and results from their radiation treatment. Angiosarcoma can also appear in young people, but the exact cause is unknown. Little is known about this cancer; in fact, when Tory called the American Cancer Society to register herself as a cancer patient, the lady who had been working there for 10+ years had to put Tory on hold to ask a doctor about Tory’s cancer as she had never heard of it. Research is conflicting on how to treat this with some saying it is chemo resistant. In fact, the literature on the Internet is quite scary, but there are good stories out there so we maintain faith that she will beat the cancer.
Due to the rare nature of her cancer, Tory’s original oncologist refused to treat her and sent her over to Loma Linda to a sarcoma specialist who still has only seen Tory’s cancer a handful of times. She has a team of physicians that consult regularly on her case and in fact consult with other doctors across the nation to make sure she gets the best treatment possible.
The first step for Tory was surgery. Tory had a mastectomy on her right side on September 29, 2011. The doctor’s removed a 10 cm tumor (size of a baseball) that included her skin, fatty tissue and part of her chest muscle. It was originally thought that the doctors would have to remove the majority of the chest muscle, but they were happy to find the cancer had not spread that far. Tory, through all this, has always been able to think big picture and she willingly donated her tumor in hopes that one day her situation could help provide doctors with answers to help treat future people with her cancer. September 30, 2011 was Matt and Tory’s 4-year Wedding Anniversary. Who could have ever imagined that their vows of “through sickness and in health” would become such a reality at such a young age? Honestly, I have never seen such a beautiful expression as I did that day with her husband Matt refusing to leave his beautiful bride’s side.
The next step for Tory was another surgery. On October 10, 2011, Tory was back at the hospital to have a little more soft tissue removed to make sure the doctor’s had clear margins and also take skin from her hip to graph over her chest wall. Once this was healed, Tory would begin radiation, get a couple weeks off, and then begin chemo infusions.
During radiation, Tory received a whirlwind of news. She was told she had at least five but no more ten years to live. That was like a slap in the face. Maybe make it to 31 years old? She is still just starting to live at that age….no, that was not OK. The doctors also performed a follow up scan to make sure they did in fact remove all the cancer. After being told they definitely removed the cancer, she was called in a couple weeks later to meet with her doctor. Her doctor told her she had this weird feeling about Tory and when she went back to look at her scan, she found a suspicious spot on her liver. What was crazy about all of this was that the scan wasn’t of the liver, it was of the breast, but the upper corner of the liver was in the scan and she found this mass that was potentially cancer. Tory immediately underwent scans to see if the cancer had spread. The liver came out clear (the mass was a hemangioma – tangle of blood vessels), but it wasn’t all good news, Tory had lesions in her spine. After only 19 radiation treatments, the doctors told her she needed to get chemo infusions immediately.
Tory began chemo in January and was told she was going to be on it once a week while they continued to test her spine for cancer. After a bone biopsy, the doctors discovered that the lesions were not cancerous but could be precancerous. Tory also had another complication; she had extreme pain in her hips. This alarmed us all as Tory’s cancer becomes painful when it is widespread; could it be in her hips? This meant more scans while she continued to undergo chemo. Going with the tradition of celebrating holidays in the hospital, Tory celebrated her 27th birthday in chemo. The nurses, Tory’s close friends and Matt made it as special as they could. It was as good as time as she could have had; the nurses are actually still talking about it.
Around this time, Tory was also starting to lose her hair. It was decided that she would shave it. She went to Salon Du Bois where Tory received a she-mullet, a buzz cut, and a Mohawk with 48 in the side. As a side note, Tory is a HUGE Nascar fan and her man, Jimmie Johnson is number 48. She sent the picture of the 48 in her head and Jimmie Johnson sent her an autographed photo and other fan gear. THANK YOU JIMMIE JOHNSON! As a compromise, a number 5 had to be shaved in the other side for Matt’s favorite driver. After the fun was over, Tory’s hair was completely shaved off. Under her head of hair was a perfectly shaped head that her mom attributes to Tory being a C-section baby.
Tory soon started experiencing very extreme side effects from the chemo infusion, especially neuropathy, so the doctors decided to have her come in only once every three weeks for chemo and they also changed the type of chemo she received. The running joke around the hospital is that if there is a side effect of the chemo, Tory will get it. Tory, needless to say has made an impact on the nurses and doctors at Loma Linda due to her good nature, high spirits and loving personality despite all the struggles she is facing. Tory was also walking with a cane at this point. Her hip pain was worsening making it difficult to walk. She has two canes, Hermon Cane and Lion Cane. Because the pain was intensifying, Tory was undergoing numerous scans to figure out what was going on in her hips and consulting with new doctors with hopes of giving her and Matt answers.
On April 9, 2012, Tory received news that she once again turned her world upside down. Tory was not responding to the chemo treatments and the cancer had spread to her hip, spine, and femurs. Tory was now in Stage 4. In just a month, the cancer had rapidly spread while on chemo. Simply unbelievable. Her doctor told her she would begin radiation on her hips and would also get a different chemo infusion. This chemo is no longer manufactured in the United States (not profitable for the drug companies, but that is whole another story) and as a result there is a shortage of it. At first, her doctor didn’t think she could get it, but she was able to pull some strings and a hospital in Indiana sent Loma Linda three doses for Tory and more will be shipped in from India. There is hope that this will work. Tory begins this on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 and will receive it once a month for 3 months and then will be rescanned to see if it is effective. She will also be getting a wheel chair as the cancer and radiation will weaken her bones. The wheelchair will be immediately bedazzled. The world of Tory’s family and friends has been totally rocked but Tory is staying strong.
Through all this Tory has been amazing. If you didn’t know her, besides the pimp cane, Tory looks amazing. The thought that cancer patients look sickly is a myth! Tory is still Tory and more beautiful than ever. It has been a stressful 7 months with doctor’s appointments, good news, bad news, worse news and finances. Tory and Matt are taking it day by day. Their love for each other is ever shining and they are truly in this adventure together. Tory has a long road ahead of her, but is doing it in stride. Let us believe in the power of prayer and hold onto a hope that Tory will beat the cancer.