Update 11/5/2014

November 5th, 2014 § 54 comments

IMG_2270A quick update.

I received my fourth round of Navelbine yesterday and I’m feeling incredibly rotten today. We’ve now confirmed that this drug is not working (at least as a single agent), so I probably will not have to put up with it much longer.

Yesterday I learned my liver tumors are too big to do the ablation procedure we had hoped (please see update on 11/7 for some corrections to this paragraph). Instead, later today I will be evaluated for a more complicated procedure called Yttrium 90 radioembolization. I will learn more about it today but the general idea is that a catheter is snaked up through the groin to one of the two blood supplies to the liver. While the liver usually gets 75% of its blood from the portal vein, when there are tumors present they often get almost all of their blood from the hepatic artery. The interventional radiologists insert radioactive beads of glass or plastic into that artery so when the tumor gets its blood supply, that supply is radiated and hopefully shrinks the tumor locally, without disruption of healthy cells in the rest of the body. Only one tumor can be treated at a time. It is not a cure, it is just palliative for these metastatic tumors to try to stabilize them or reduce them. I will also need to be off chemo for a week on either side of the procedure.

I also need to be seen tomorrow by the cardiology team at Sloan-Kettering for another opinion on my pericardial fluid situation now that I am having some symptoms and have had more imaging done. They will decide if we need surgical procedure to drain the fluid and biopsy it. It is probably malignant but we can’t be sure. If they don’t feel we need to do any intervention right now, we will watch and wait.

So, we have some big decisions to make including what chemo to go to next. I won’t go into those options here now. First I need to deal with these more pressing issues of the liver and the heart. I had hoped to be able to rest and get through these difficult post-chemo days at home but the appointments mean pushing myself beyond what I really think I’m able to do sometimes. But I have to get answers and be able to get scheduled for what I need when I am hopefully feeling a bit better next week.

Once we have some decisions made about it all I will report back. Things just don’t seem to go the easy or simple route and I’m getting used to that. For now I am going to try to conserve energy and stay pretty quiet. Thanks to you all for your continued support.


Update 11/3/2014

November 2nd, 2014 § 29 comments

IMG_9141Last week didn’t quite go as planned. I was hoping to post more pieces here to finish out October with some of my favorites. I will still try to get those up in the coming weeks. What prevented me from doing so was a week that became dominated with medical appointments.

Monday I saw my cardiologist to try to get some information about some symptoms I’d been having. My echo (and later in the week, the CT scan) showed there is some excess fluid around my heart. For now it is not causing any effect on heart function but we can’t rule out that it is a problem. I’ll have to repeat tests in a few weeks to try to see if it grows in volume (this would indicate a more sinister issue, and we would need to rule out a malignancy). For now, though, that goes on the back burner.

Tuesday I had bloodwork and IV fluids. The bloodwork is still a bit unclear about if the current chemo (Navelbine) is working. The rise in tumor markers is slowing but we need some definitive results this week, I think, to feel confident in interpreting them. The bloodwork also revealed I was anemic again, so on Thursday I went to New York City and got a transfusion of two units of blood.

On Friday I had a CT scan to compare to my last scan and help us make decisions about treatment. The CT showed both some good news and some concerns. While the lymph nodes and malignant tissue in my chest have resolved (chemotherapy in the last six months has worked and reduced those areas), my liver unfortunately shows two tumors.

The best thing at this time would be to biopsy portions of them (to gather tissue for future testing; my cancer has rarely been in areas that we can actually get samples, so this presents a rare chance to grab some) and also do ablation on them. Ablation is a localized procedure that when successful, destroys tumors of a particular size with very few side effects.

So, a lot is up in the air at the moment.

Because it is only Monday morning I don’t know what this week will bring in regards to chemo. We also don’t yet know if the interventional radiologists will decide that I am a good candidate for the ablation.  For now, I wait.

Palbociclib, a drug I received through the expanded access (formerly “compassionate use”) program from Pfizer should arrive this week. That process took approximately 9 weeks and usually takes longer than that. I am fortunate my oncologist kept the process moving in such a timely manner (all applications and documents for such use must be done by the physician, not the patient).

I’m not feeling that well and have been primarily staying home for the last month. Now that I think about it, though, I’ve been basically staying home for the last ten months. Many days my half hour in the morning driving the older two kids to school is my only outing of the day. But I am patient.

At this point the options are still very reasonable and typical for this stage of the disease. I’m waiting for the next treatment proposal and then onward we go.

Update 10/8/2014

October 8th, 2014 § 49 comments

IMG_8503It does not matter how healthy you  look. It does not matter if your hair is growing back or you walk a little faster or manage with just one nap a day now.

It does not matter if any of those things are true, your cancer can be worsening.

As I have described here before, metastatic breast cancer is characterized by resistance to therapies. If a treatment works in the first place (and according to my oncologist, most have about a 30% chance of initial success), the cancer will almost certainly become resistant to it and it will cease working. This resistance will happen time after time. This has happened numerous times to me already. I have had some treatments not work at all (Taxol, Fulvestrant+clinical trial drug GDC-0032) while others worked for a few months and then would not work any longer (Xeloda, Aromasin+Afinitor) .

Once again, this resistance has happened. Carboplatin and Gemzar did their work starting in March and did it well, bringing me back from a very dark place this Spring. After 9 complete cycles, though, they are no longer working. It is time to move on.

Moving on is scary. It means being in freefall as we use educated guesswork to decide what agent(s) to try next.

The good news is that I was officially approved to receive palbociclib from Pfizer under their expanded access (compassionate use) program. I will be able to get this drug before it receives final approval by the FDA and therefore before it is on the market sometime in the next year. There is no guarantee this drug will work (alone or in combination with other drugs that are on the market already). It is just one more thing to try.

There are still final bureaucratic hoops to jump through, though, and I won’t have it for at least a few more weeks. This presents a problem: I need a new therapy now. I cannot safely be without treatment for that period of time. It also is best for me to be in a state of control when I start it; the higher a cancer load I carry the harder it would be if what the drug does is provide stability rather than cancer regression. Stability is considered success in metastatic breast cancer drugs. Just keeping things the same, preventing cancer progression, is good. This is considered “success” in using a drug for metastatic breast cancer. However, if you start at a very high cancer load, that stability may be quite intolerable. My oncologist and I feel it is best to have that load brought down (not just held steady), and we don’t know if this drug is a workhorse like that. We can’t count on it to be.

I’ve known for the last week that things were probably over for this chemo. We had tried a higher dose of both drugs already without success. I adjusted to the news over the weekend and yesterday I started on a new chemotherapy regimen. Navelbine is given through my port as an IV “push”; it’s just one syringeful that is given in about 30 seconds. Having a port is really helpful for this one because it is very irritating to veins if you do not have a medi-port implanted in your chest like I do (the port is completely under my skin, it is a lump about the size of a nickel and is accessed with a special needle by the nurses. They can take blood from it, give medication and chemo through it the way you would with an IV except you don’t have to use an arm vein). We are initially planning on a schedule of two weeks on, one week off, but that may change as we go. And of course, if it isn’t working, we’ll have to try something else.

I’m having some other problems now that the cancer is growing so that has been a challenge. Side effects don’t just stop the minute you stop taking a drug. And moving right on to another one means there is no break. It is what is needed though. The good thing is that if you find something that works (like the Carboplatin and Gemzar did for me), they can do astounding things to kill the growing cancer and bring it back under control.

Metastatic breast cancer is like Whack-a-Mole: cancer pops up in places and then can often be whacked back down. If you’re lucky you can play this game for a little while as it takes up residence in different bones and organs. We’ll see how successful we are this time. This is always the hardest time for me mentally: living with the uncertainty of trying to find a new regimen, trying to find something that works, knowing right now there is nothing.

But this is the choice I have made in choosing to treat my cancer. That is the nature of this disease. These are not heroic measures. This is what treating metastatic breast cancer is.

And so we go… onward.

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