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Motorcycle riding grandma: “It wasn’t a skin irritation; it was a rare type of breast cancer”

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Motorcycle riding grandma: “It wasn’t a skin irritation; it was a rare type of breast cancer”

It’s rare and it is often mistaken for a rash or dermatitis, but it’s actually a form of breast cancer.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

It started with a red spot about the size of a tennis ball under her left breast. The skin was warm and puckered like the skin of an orange.

“At first I just thought it was a rash or yeast infection,” said Dianne Spillers. She originally went to a doctor close to her Lynn, Ind. home. “She told me I had Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer. She said to go ride my motorcycle and get my affairs in order. I had about six months to live,” said Spillers, 59. That was May 2010.

That motorcycle-riding grandma wasn’t settling for that prognosis so she sought a second opinion at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. She’s independent and determined. She’s the mother of three, grandmother of 15, and great-grandmother to four. She has ridden her Harley touring bike as far west as Billings, Mont. and as far south as Florida. She once took a trip to Washington, D.C. with her mom, Linda Baldwin on the back of the cycle.

On a recent weekday, Baldwin and her sister Vickie Hamilton, along with Spillers’ youngest daughter Kerri Burge joined Spillers at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. The four women joked and laughed as Spillers completed chemotherapy.

She relaxed and enjoyed a hand massage given by therapist Michelle Bailey with the Simon Cancer Center CompleteLife Program.

CompleteLife is a comprehensive therapy program that attends to the body, mind and spirit of the whole person. CompleteLife services are available for patients and families of IU Health Simon Cancer Center and IU Health University Hospital.

In addition to massage therapy, the CompleteLife Program offers complimentary appearance consultations (wig bank), art therapy, music therapy, yoga therapy and support groups.

Spillers, who has arthritis, and neuropathy, says she looks forward to the massages each time she comes in for treatments.

“My hands get a work out during the week – cutting and manipulating dough,” said Spillers who works for Mrs. Coe’s Homemade Noodles. “The massage is a great way to relax and rest my hands.”

Since her initial diagnosis, Spillers began a clinical trial at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. Under the care of hematologist-oncologist Dr. Kathy Miller, she continues with maintenance chemotherapy every three weeks.

There are fewer than 200,000 cases of inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed in the United States each year. It is called “inflammatory” because the breast often looks red or swollen. Most inflammatory breast cancers develop from cells that line the milk ducts and then spread.

“This is a trial. I am a guinea pig of sorts but I feel fortunate that I am in the best place I can be,” said Spillers. “On a scale of one to ten I rate IU Health Simon Cancer Center as an eleven. We send people here and we wouldn’t go anywhere else.”