I was diagnosed with stage 4 recurrent breast cancer
in April 2009. After surgery, I was offered the chance
to participate in a phase I clinical trial testing a new
drug for exactly the type of breast cancer I had—stage
4 estrogen receptor–positive breast cancer. I jumped at
the chance and have been taking palbociclib (Ibrance)
and letrozole ever since. Within nine months of starting
the trial, there was no evidence of cancer in my body.
My quality of life is extraordinary and I continue to do
everything that I want to.
It all started in October 2005, with a phone call from my
gynecologist a day or two after my annual mammogram.
I was always vigilant and made sure to have annual
mammograms because my mother survived breast
cancer twice, the first time 40 years ago. My sister
also survived breast cancer. I had always assumed that
it would eventually be my turn and hoped that the
mammograms would detect it early. I was fortunate; the
diagnosis turned out to be stage 1 estrogen receptor–
positive breast cancer.
Right after my diagnosis, I met with a number of
surgeons to learn about the options for my surgery. I
chose a surgeon at UCLA because she was able to do
reconstruction surgery at the same time as a bilateral
mastectomy [surgery to remove all of both breasts]. I was
back at work just four weeks after surgery, traveling and
living my life.
I then met with an oncologist and started a five-year
course of tamoxifen therapy. I also chose to continue
having yearly mammograms, even though this was not
standard of care at the time, which is lucky because this
is how my recurrence was caught.
About four years after my initial diagnosis, I received a
phone call a day or two after a mammogram to tell me
there was something suspicious. I was told to come back
for another mammogram immediately, which I did.
At that point, it was decided there was no immediate
concern and I was offered a follow-up mammogram in
six months. But I wasn’t satisfied with that and took the
mammogram films to my surgeon who said there was
no need to wait and that I should have a needle biopsy
So that is what I did, and sure enough, I had a recurrence
of the breast cancer in the small amount of breast tissue
left after the mastectomy. A PET scan and bone biopsy
revealed that the cancer had metastasized to my left iliac
bone. I had a lumpectomy and bilateral oophorectomy
[surgery to remove both ovaries] before meeting with my
oncologist to plan the next steps in treatment.
The first thing my oncologist told me about was a phase
I clinical trial testing a new drug, palbociclib, together
with letrozole. Once a radiation oncologist had agreed
that it was OK to just watch the bone tumor, I was cleared
to participate in the clinical trial. There has been no sign
of cancer in my body since January 2010, about nine
months after I started on the clinical trial.
I will take letrozole every day and palbociclib on a four-week cycle for the rest of my life, as long as it keeps
my cancer at bay. Right now, the quality of my life is
extraordinary—if you saw me walking down the street
you would never imagine I was a stage 4 cancer patient.
One of the reasons I choose to talk about my experience
with cancer, rather than keep it private, is because I think
it is critically important for women to know that you can
go through stage 4 breast cancer and come out the other
end. For more than five years there has been no evidence
of my cancer, and all I do is take a pill and live my life.
Jane T KLein // age 59 // sherman oaKs, caLifornia
living A gooD life With
stAge 4 bReAst CAnCeR
thAnKs to PAlboCiClib