When you hear someone found out they have breast cancer, you may assume they found a lump during a self-exam or the doctor spotted unusual spots during a mammogram.
But when local make-up artist Lindsey Wirht found out she had breast cancer the week before her 39th birthday, you may be surprised to know the diagnosis stemmed from her insistence to have an unusual rash on her breast fully examined. She says even she was shocked to find out her rash was actually a symptom of a very rare type of inflammatory breast cancer that makes up only 2 percent of breast cancer cases in the U.S.
“That rash just wouldn’t go away,” she says. “I did rounds of antibiotics and used creams and they kept telling me it was either a spider bite or mastitis — even though I told them I wasn’t breastfeeding any more.
“I asked the doctor to just humor me with a mammogram.”
The results proved the worst and in January 2016, Wirht was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
The battle has been rough for the young mother with rounds of painful surgeries, but she says she was recently released from treatment and is now officially cancer free.
But her journey is far from over as she has taken on the role of advocate.
“Cancer doesn’t run in my family,” she says. “I am young and fairly healthy with two small children that I nursed, so I never thought I would have breast cancer.
“I’ve never been close to anyone who went through treatment so I’ve been very open with my treatment … and very open about going to get checked out.”
She says another reason for the openness is simple: “Why go through it alone?”
“I’m not telling people for attention. I’m just trying to make them aware of this type of cancer. I also want them to get checked out, get treatment and create a great support system.”
She says that during her treatment, she gained some wonderful friends by reaching out and being open.
“I’m definitely more grateful for things now — when you go through something like this, you find out who your true friends are.”
And she says even strangers were helpful to her and her family during her treatment, which is why she says she enjoyed her time at last year’s Susan G. Komen Savannah Race for the Cure. She says she never felt more connected to a group of strangers in her life.
“It was very emotional,” she says. “I was fully bald and had just had chemo the day before and had a fever. But I just said, ‘Screw this; I’m going to show cancer who’s boss.’
“… I cried. I didn’t think I would be so emotional but it was so surreal. I kept thinking, ‘Is this my life?’”
Being a busy make-up artist during wedding season may prevent Wirht from making a return appearance to this year’s Race for the Cure, but she, of course, advocates for the importance of other women to take part in the event.
The Race for the Cure returns to Ellis Square on April 22. According to Aileen Gabbey, executive director of Susan G. Komen Coastal Georgia Affiliate, the race is a Komen signature event, their biggest fundraiser of the year and “what’s raised here, stays here.”
“We rely on those funds raised from really generous people… It allows us to provide grants throughout the year to serve our mission of saving lives. And the day of the race is also a wonderful festival for survivors,” Gabbey says.
She invites everyone to come out — not just those affected by breast cancer.
“There is something special about this day where it just takes on a life of its own. All the survivors are in pink … the music is pumping and everyone starts dancing…
“When you look out over this sea of pink, you can see smiles and joy… And for the most part, these women are fighting for their lives and don’t get to do that… But, for this one day they get to have that and it’s great to see it in person. They deserve it.”
IF YOU GO
What: Susan G. Komen Savannah Race for the Cure
When: April 22; survivor processional at 7:45 a.m., walk at 8:15 a.m., 5K at 8:30 a.m.
Where: Ellis Square
Registration: Online registration ends April 20; register in person from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 21 or starting at 6 a.m. April 22
Info: komencoastalgeorgia.org, 912-232-2535