A Doctor’s Story: How a ‘Red Herring’ Caught My Cancer

My story starts with a rash.

I had just returned from my summer vacation this past August and was getting ready for work at dawn. Stepping out of the shower, I noticed a large flat red spot on my left breast. I paused and thought to myself, “What a strange place to have Lyme disease show up!” I went to work thinking about a course of doxycycline. But then I began wondering if I should be concerned the rash might be something else. I realized that it could be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, which has a poor prognosis. Having lost my grandmother to metastatic breast cancer when I was in high school, my mind drifted back briefly to that painful time in my life. Along with my grandmother, two other women on my mother’s side of the family had had breast cancer. I was suddenly filled with fear.

My heart sank further when I discovered that I had inadvertently missed last year’s mammogram and breast ultrasound. I reached out immediately to my OB who arranged for these procedures to take place the next day. My fears were realized: I had a breast mass—though ironically in a different location from my rash—and I needed two biopsies quickly. While I was reassured that I might have a benign or precancerous tumor and that the rash was probably unrelated, I was absolutely certain I had breast cancer before my pathology results had even returned. Within hours of the confirmation that I did have breast cancer, I had already arranged evaluations at three cancer centers in three states in three days.

I am grateful that my rash, which has persisted for weeks now, was a “red herring” of sorts: a rare, autoimmune-mediated skin finding that brought my early breast cancer to light. I am now both physician and cancer patient, with a greater understanding of the vulnerability that patients with cancer and other serious diseases face.

By sharing my story, I hope to empower each of you to remember to place your health—and the health of your family—first. It has never been a more important time than during this Covid-19 pandemic to make your health and wellness a top priority.