I am in my 12th year of treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
Although I have been in treatment constantly since my diagnosis, I
have lived, and continue to live, a full and productive life. In 2012, I
had my tumor genetically profiled. This empowered me. It enables
me to search for clinical trials of new drugs that might keep me
alive with minimal toxicity so that I can continue enjoying life.
My journey with cancer began in 2001 when I went to my general
practitioner because I was tired, so tired I was having trouble
completing simple tasks. He told me he felt an enlarged liver and
sent me for a CT scan. The scan revealed tumors in my liver. At the
time they thought it was liver cancer, but biopsies showed that it
was not. It was breast cancer. I was metastatic from day one.
My first thought was: How long do I have to live? Is there any
chance of survival? I felt I had to say goodbye to my future.
But the reality is that I joined a vibrant group of people living with
metastatic breast cancer. You might not recognize us, we may look
just like you, we are not cancer survivors, we are surviving with
cancer, constantly receiving treatment. In essence, we live two
For me, for the first two years after diagnosis, one life was a series
of chemotherapies that reduced levels of tumor markers in my
blood. The other was a full-time job, a busy home life, and family
At the end of those two years, my tumor markers had dropped to
levels found in healthy women, and CT scans showed no evidence
of disease. I was placed on anti-hormone therapy, exemestane
(Aromasin), and for the next five years I lived an almost normal life.
At that time, a tumor again appeared in my liver. After
radiofrequency ablation of the tumor and six months taking
capecitabine (Xeloda), my tumor marker levels were once again
normal, and I went back on an anti-hormone therapy, this time
Then, in the summer of 2010, several tumors were detected in my
liver. I started back on a series of chemotherapies. First, I received
carboplatin and a nanodrug called Abraxane. Then, when that
drug combination failed, I received gemcitabine (Gemzar). But my
body crashed and I needed several platelet and other blood cell
To my community oncologist, I added an oncologist at a regional
cancer center. I was placed on tamoxifen, but my disease
progressed, so I changed to eribulin (Halaven). It was a great drug
for me and my tumor markers almost reached normal levels.
However, I had to stop taking eribulin in December 2012, because
my platelet and blood cell counts plummeted.
That is when I identified a research oncologist and agreed to the
genetic analysis of my tumor. I knew that I had the option of going
on with chemotherapy or looking for more targeted drugs. I wanted
more targeted drugs, and I knew that genetic analysis was a way to
get to them.
The results of the genetic analysis indicated that everolimus
(Afinitor) might be effective against my cancer. Unfortunately,
it wasn’t. This frustrated me because, for the first time in my
treatment, I had something that was telling me a drug should work
for me but it wasn’t. I thought: What am I missing in the analysis?
My research oncologist explained that currently, genetic analysis is
not all encompassing because knowledge today has its limits. He
also said that our knowledge is rapidly expanding and that in time
genetic analysis will give a more comprehensive picture of tumors.
Although genetic analysis failed to identify a drug that benefited me,
the power that it gave me was priceless, and I would recommend it
to anyone in my position.
I am currently receiving an investigational drug through a phase Ib
clinical trial. It is one of very few options left to me. The reality is
that I am at the end of approved treatments. I rely on investigational
drugs and the researchers who are identifying new ones.
To ensure that drugs are constantly entering the pipeline,
researchers need a dependable source of funding. What I don’t
understand is why research into cancer, and all other diseases, is
not automatically funded at a steady level by the government. As a
metastatic breast cancer patient out of approved therapies, I feel I
have to beg for the dollars to support the research behind my next
drug. I don’t think I, or anyone, should have to beg.
Living with Metastatic
Breast Cancer Since 2001