I was diagnosed with HER2-positive, stage III inflammatory breast
cancer in October 2006. It progressed to metastatic cancer in
May 2009. By December 2010, I had undergone several different
treatments and participated in several clinical trials, but my cancer
was no longer responding and the treatments were very toxic to my
body. I was ready to give up. I agreed to enroll on one last clinical
trial. It was testing a drug called T-DM1 (Kadcyla). It handed me my
life back, and then some — I’m happier than I have ever been.
It all started in September 2006. I was riding a horse that I
had recently purchased, and I suddenly felt severe pain in my
breast. When I looked, I discovered my breast was extremely
enlarged. Despite this, it was another three weeks before I went
to a gynecologist because I had heard about something called
inflammatory breast cancer, and I needed to wrap my mind around
the awful possibility that I might have something that serious.
The gynecologist sent me straight to a breast specialist, who
confirmed my fears immediately. Being told that you have
inflammatory breast cancer and that it is the worst type of breast
cancer was terrifying. I was immediately thrown into a world that
I knew nothing about — treatments, surgeries, breast cancer
markers. I had to become an expert really quickly.
My initial treatment was chemotherapy. Because my tumor was
HER2-positive, I first received two chemotherapy drugs and then
trastuzumab (Herceptin), which targets HER2, and paclitaxel (Taxol).
After a short break, I had surgery, which was followed by a year of
treatment with trastuzumab.
Just six months after stopping treatment with trastuzumab, I found
out that my cancer had progressed. For the next 18 months I
received various existing treatments and participated in a number of
clinical trials. Some of the drugs or drug combinations benefited me
for a time, but none had a lasting effect.
After the fourth or fifth treatment, I was so sick that I decided to
tell my doctor that I wanted to stop treatment. However, she talked
me in to enrolling in a phase III clinical trial at Sarah Cannon in
Nashville, Tenn., which was testing T-DM1. Enrolling in the trial
changed my life.
I received my first dose of T-DM1 in December 2010. Initially,
T-DM1 controlled my cancer, then it started to shrink it, and
by December 2011, there was no sign of it. It was an amazing
moment, and one that I had not expected.
My decision to enroll on the T-DM1 clinical trial turned my life
around almost immediately. I had been ready to throw my life
away, but the dynamic, upbeat attitude at Sarah Cannon, where
there was no consideration that I was a dying person, coupled
with the fact that my cancer was responding to T-DM1, enabled
me to start thinking about my future. I felt so positive that just a
month after enrolling in the trial, I adopted an unwanted, neglected
thoroughbred ex-racehorse and made plans for his future as a
I still receive T-DM1 every three weeks, and my scans continue to
show no sign of disease. I’m extremely healthy, I’m spending most
of my time outdoors, and I’m living a life that is, in many ways,
higher quality than it was before my diagnosis.
There are two things that I have learned from my experience with
cancer. First, cancer is not a death sentence and you must not stop
living. If your doctor makes you feel that there is no hope, then you
need to consider finding a new one. Second, clinical research saves
lives. It saved my life and has saved the lives of many of my friends.
Without it, cancer will beat us all.
Living with Inflammatory
Breast Cancer Since 2006.