So here I am, back at home again, after a three-month and more hiatus. Last autumn I experienced chest and back pain, vomiting, and shortness of breath that went beyond scary. It went beyond first aid.
In early November 2012 I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer that had spread to my lung cavity and bones. My last recurrence in 2003 was stage I breast cancer, treated with a double mastectomy, chemo and–much later–Herceptin. But like a horror movie, in 2012 the cancer clearly told me in full force, “I’m back!” My pleural cavity was filled with fluid, causing the shortness of breath. A biopsy of the fluid showed it to be HER-2 positive. The cancer was treatable, but not curable.
Fortunately, my oncologist in northern California is a former fellow at Stanford. He had choices for me. He knew the Principal Investigator of a Genentech-sponsored Phase II clinical trial at Stanford comparing T-DM1 (Kadcyla) and taxol with T-DM1, Perjeta and taxol. He thought I would be a perfect candidate. Indeed, after undergoing several scans I was found to qualify for the study. I am only one of five patients in all of California in this particular trial. Since it is unblinded, I was happy to know I’m in the study arm that gets the antibody combination.
After three months the scans showed that my lung cavity (which I had to drain daily) was normal and my bones were healing. Two palpable tumors on my back are also gone, with no trace of where they once were. The doctor views it as a complete response to the drugs. I am so thankful that Genentech developed these targeted antibodies. I am able to lead a normal life now with minimal side effects: that is, no more vomiting or indigestion, and my hair is growing back now that I am off the taxol. Without this treatment I would have had Herceptin and maybe also Perjeta, both very excellent options. But I was thrilled to get T-DM1, the Cadillac of drugs, since my cancer was so aggressive and I was in so much pain.
On Feb. 22 I was pleased to learn that the FDA approved T-DM1 , known by the trademark Kadcyla. On Monday, Feb. 25, Genentech celebrated by having a traditional ringing of the bells at its South San Francisco headquarters. My story was read at one of the bell ringings.
I’m inspired by the miracle of life, by each new miracle that allows me to get a good night’s rest, wake up pain-free in the morning, and look forward to connecting with my friends, my church, and my sons. I deal with side effects such as fatigue, some achiness in the legs and peripheral neuropathy in the hands and feet. But I’ll never take another day for granted.
It’s thrilling to be back!
Have you been called back after a supposedly routine check-up? How did you cope with feelings of anxiety?