Patty Bolle thought she was finally cancer-free.
As WILX News reports, the woman from Haslett, Michigan was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years ago. After finding a lump in her breast during a self-exam, she went through successful treatment: “I went through the chemo and radiation and surgery to remove all signs of that. That was a course of nine months.”
Years passed. When the cancer didn’t come back, Bolle believed she had beaten it. But about a year ago, her hairstylist discovered a strange bald spot on Bolle’s head. Bolle told WILX:
“Nikki was pulling my hair up and she said, ‘Oh my God, you have a bald spot there,’ and I said, ‘I do?’ So she showed me in the mirror and I went, ‘I had no idea.'”
Nikki McClure is a stylist with Blush Salon in Holt, Michigan. She told WILX about the unusual bald spot on Bolle’s head: “It was just about bigger than a dime size and it looked like it had been burned. It was kind of red and splotchy and so I asked her if she burned it and she said, ‘No’ and I kind of poked it a little bit and asked if it was sensitive and she said, ‘No.'”
The discovery sent Bolle to the doctor. A biopsy of the spot determined that it was stage IV breast cancer. And a scan confirmed that Bolle’s cancer hadn’t just returned, but spread.
According to BreastCancer.org, stage IV breast cancer – also called metastatic breast cancer – occurs when cancer cells break off of the original tumor and travel to other parts of the body, most commonly the brain, liver, bones, or lungs.
Approximately 30 percent of women who have been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will later develop metastatic cancer. However, it is not a hopeless diagnosis. There are multiple treatment options for metastatic breast cancer, and it is possible to control the cancer for years.
Symptoms of metastatic cancer can vary depending on where it spread. For example, when it has spread to the brain, it may be accompanied by headaches, changes in speech, or memory problems. When it spreads to the bones, it can result in sudden pain. Breast cancer that spreads to the liver or lungs can often be symptom-less.
McClure points out that stylists are in a position to find certain health issues before anyone else. She told WILX:
“A stylist is the person that looks at your scalp more than your doctor would. You wouldn’t go to a physical and they wouldn’t pick through your hair and see if anything’s out of the ordinary. They tell you to look for freckles and moles on your body but nobody thinks about your scalp.”
Metastatic cancer on the scalp is rare. Bolle said the diagnosis had her, “devastated and in shock because I had already battled it for 13 years ago and won.” She’s now in treatment and feeling optimistic about her future. She told WILX:
“I’m not home free, I mean. Metastatic breast cancer, it’s relentless and it will eventually come back, but at this point with the new drugs that are being out there, it could be years.”