In 2013, when my ovarian cancer recurred for the third time,
I had the option of receiving more chemotherapy or trying
to find a clinical trial. My husband and I did a lot of research
and I was fortunate to get into a clinical trial at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston under the direction of Dr.
Suzanne Berlin. The drugs I’ve been receiving through the
trial, olaparib [Lynparza] and BKM120, have kept the cancer
at bay for 16 months. I recently passed five years since my
original diagnosis, which I am very thankful about because
60 percent of women who receive a stage 3C ovarian cancer
diagnosis die before reaching this milestone.
In many ways, my journey with cancer began when my
mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40. As a
result, I was always extremely concerned about breast cancer
and had annual mammograms. I even had a biopsy along the
way, but everything always came back negative.
Then, just over five years ago, I gained 10 pounds or so. I
thought it was just natural, middle-age weight gain. But one
day, while I was traveling on business, I suddenly felt pain
in my side that was so bad I immediately went to a local
doctor. He mentioned that it could possibly be hepatitis C
virus, shingles, or gallbladder issues and did an ultrasound.
I sent a copy of the ultrasound to my brother-in-law, who is
a cardiologist in Detroit, and he told me to come to Detroit
right away. On Saturday I had a CT scan, and on Monday I
was diagnosed with ovarian cancer; the pain in my side was
caused by ascites [a buildup of fluid in the abdomen] pressing
against my liver.
After my diagnosis I learned that I have a BRCA1 mutation. I
also learned that being of Jewish Russian heritage increases a
person’s chances of carrying a BRCA mutation and that these
mutations act as a link between breast and ovarian cancers. I
wish I had known all this earlier because I would have been
proactive about monitoring other aspects of my health in
addition to my breast health and maybe I would have been
diagnosed at an earlier stage, when ovarian cancer is more
likely to be treated successfully. On the other hand, learning
this opened doors to clinical trials available only to patients
with BRCA mutations.
About a week after my diagnosis, I had extensive surgery—a
complete hysterectomy [surgical removal of the whole uterus
and cervix], omenectomy [surgical removal of the tissue that
surrounds the stomach and other organs in the abdomen], a
bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy [surgical removal of both
ovaries and fallopian tubes], and tumor debulking [surgical
removal of all tumors larger than 1 cm]. This was followed
by 18 rounds of chemotherapy, including several rounds
of chemotherapy delivered directly into my abdomen.
There were weeks when I would travel to Ann Arbor for
chemotherapy on Monday then fly to Las Vegas or Orlando
to work a full schedule the rest of the week.
By January 2011, I was told there was no evidence of cancer
in my body. Unfortunately, about six months later, my blood
CA- 125 levels, which are used to monitor for potential
relapse, were rising and a PET scan showed that the cancer
had reccurred. After another six rounds of chemotherapy
with taxol and carboplatin, I was again told there was no
evidence of disease, but again the cancer returned about six
months later. Another six rounds of chemotherapy with taxol
proved very challenging, but I worked through it all.
When my cancer recurred yet again, in December 2013, I was
offered more chemotherapy. However, my doctor had previously
mentioned that there were clinical trials testing drugs called
PARP inhibitors, which were showing promise for BRCA-mutant
cancers like mine. When I asked him about these he said they were
all full, but I decided to do my own research because it sounded
like a much better option for me than more chemotherapy.
I learned very quickly that you need to meet a lot of eligibility
requirements before you even qualify for a trial and that
understanding all of these is not easy. Then you have to get
into the trial. The two trials that I found that I qualified for
had long waiting lists and only enrolled a small number of
patients each month. Somehow I was fortunate enough to get
a slot in the trial at Dana-Farber and I have received the most
outstanding cancer treatment and care from the staff there.
For the first eight weeks I had to go to Dana-Farber each
week, but now I only go every four weeks. During my visits,
they alternate between testing my blood and performing a
CT scan. I can stay in the trial as long as my tumor does not
grow more than 10 percent above baseline. The fact that I can
take pills every day, which have very limited side effects, is
phenomenal because it allows me to be completely focused on
work, like I’ve always been.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for ovarian cancer and our
only hope of finding a cure is by supporting research and the
great scientists out there who are working toward this goal.
The clinical trial in which Patty is participating was partially
funded by the Stand Up To Cancer Targeting PI3K in Women’s
Cancers Dream Team.
Pa TTY KLein // age 53 // coraL gabLes, fLorida
KeePing ovARiAn CAnCeR
At bAy thAnKs to A