Help from a new drug: Treating my breast cancer recurrence
Donna Patricia Brown
Even though I knew the odds were against me, I didn't want to face my reality. I have too much I want to do before I die.
But wishing wouldn't my change reality: My estrogen positive (ER+) breast cancer had returned.
My breast cancer treatment
My personal war against stage 3 breast cancer began on May 10, 2005.
Since then, I've endured eight rounds of chemotherapy (lost my hair), a mastectomy, 25 radiation treatments, staph infection, wound VAC for 30 days, a frozen shoulder, a year of physical therapy and reconstructive surgery, with seven surgeries total.
So it was game on for my breast cancer -- war two -- when my oncologist called me on June 29, 2012, to say there were metastatic breast cancer tumors in my lungs and bones. My stage was elevated to 4.
I quickly started on Faslodex®, a drug used to treat hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Unfortunately, my cancer kept growing, so it was time for plan B. My oncologist Ricardo Alvarez, M.D., suggested everolimus (Afinitor) with tamoxifen.
Afinitor is a new FDA-approved drug that's also used to treat hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. It's used in patients like me who've already received other treatments that didn't work well.
I've also been on Xgeva® since my recurrence. It requires a shot every month.
Good news, thanks to Afinitor
I was at MD Anderson in May 2013 when Dr. Alvarez told me the news.
There I was, walking out of MD Anderson, trying to avoid the people, cars and shuttles. It was 5:00 pm, and I remember stopping in my tracks when he called.
I just stood there trying to be normal, but I wanted to shout for joy and drop to my knees. Dr. Alavarez had received a few of the reports from the scans I'd just finished. It was good news -- very good news.
Several of the tumors were completely gone, and the remaining ones had shrunk. It was a miracle.
Dr. Alvarez told me I had reason to celebrate. I was happy in a numb sort of way.
Killing my cancer
All I really wanted to do was order room service and watch a movie at my hotel. It's been a long 11 months filled with so many emotions, acres of drugs and tests, lots of time devoted to my health care and an every-day-every-moment determination to focus my faith.
I saw the scans the next afternoon. It was only when I saw proof that I really understood what Afintor had done. It was killing my cancer.
I started shaking.
Thanks to the FDA's approval, doctors have just begun using this drug to treat advanced breast cancer. Good timing for me.
The battle continues
But the battle continues. Thankfully, Afinitor is working. I will continue to take it and hopefully the side effects will diminish. Currently, I deal with the common ones such as mouth sores, nausea and fatigue.
Often, I'm told how good I look. If you've been one of the kind people delivering a compliment, thank you.
I suspect people think I should look like a stereotypical cancer patient -- thin, bald, sick. What people can't see is my doctoring routine morning and night. I use more lotions, creams, rinses and ointments than can fit on my bathroom countertop.
The most important part of my routine is wrapping the miracle Afinitor pill inside a marshmallow.
I swallow it and, with each dose, I pray, "Please kill all the cancer and spare my life."
Patricia Brown was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2005 in Memphis, Tennessee. Today, she resides in Fort Smith, Arkansas. She is passionate about sharing her ability to find hope, strength and joy as she lives a lifestyle that includes cancer.