Last Tuesday evening, I got a call from Vanderbilt letting me know all the details hadn't been completed in time for me to get chemo the next day if I wanted to participate in a clinical trial that is going on for triple negative stage II breast cancer. I could chose to start chemo the next day and not be in the trial or postphone my first chemo until the following week. I told them I would have to think about it and they said they would call back in the morning to see what I had decided.
Before the phone call, I had been all ready for the chemo. In fact, I wasn't even worried about the chemo. What I was worried about was the results from my bone scan and CT....I didn't know if the cancer had spread. The fact that I still qualifed for the clinical trial after those tests meant that there was no sign of the cancer spreading beyond the sentinal lymph node. I was elated at that! I was so happy about that part of the conversation that I literally cried tears of joy and relief after I hung up.
I won't go into the details of the clinical trial, they are somewhat complex. Anyhow, I calculate my odds of getting a drug that could be potentially very helpful are about 25% if I wait another week. The oncologist said it would be okay for me to wait a week if I wanted to. So....after a pretty sleepless night, I decided to wait. I figured the 25% chance was worth a shot.
Several things factored into my decision to wait another week. One factor was the 25% chance at a new drug specifically targeted to my particular type of cancer. Another factor was that the tests showed no signs of the cancer spreading. A third factor (and a pretty significant one) is that I can feel the tumor in my breast, an it doesn't feel any bigger...in fact, it feels a little smaller to me.
Ever since I found out I had cancer, I've made major, MAJOR, changes in my life. I instantly cut out all sugar, salt, and any refined foods. I initially became vegan with a lot of organic juicing. About a week ago, I read about a ketogenic diet that made a lot of sense to me, so I added back in fish (sardines and wild salmon), and small amounts of organic free range beef and chicken so I'm able to get the protein I need without going over a very low carb limit. The theory behind this way of eating is that cancer cells can only get their energy from carb sources while the rest of the body can use either carbs or fat. I think cancer is more complicated than that and that some cancers can get energy from fat as well...it depends on the mutations that have occured in the cancer cells.
Anyway...I digress from my point. My point being, that I have been doing TONS of things to try to aid my body in using it's natural defenses to clear my body of the cancer cells. Diet, meditation, exercise, yoga, and many other things. Since I couldn't feel the tumor growing, I felt like it was another indicator that it was safe to wait. Also, I wanted to give my new diet a chance to work on it's own.
Another (little) factor is that my port placement was only 5 days old at the time of my first scheduled chemo and was still very tender at the site. By waiting a week, the port site will be much less tender. I have a high pain tolerance, so this wasn't much of a factor, but it is still nice that I now have another week to recuperate before they start poking me there.
It turns out that this week's delay precipitated the need for another mammogram and ultrasound of both breasts because the clinical trial protocol wanted results that were less than 28 days old from the date of the first chemo treatment. So yesterday, I went back to Vanderbilt for more tests, including a mammo and ultrasound.
Those tests turned out to be quite enlightening for me. I asked the technician to show me the tumor on the mammogram view. I was surprised to see how small it actually is. It feels bigger than it is. I had been told that at my first visit to Vandy, but I didn't really believe that until I saw it.
I discovered while looking at one of the views, that a little marker clip that they put in while doing the biopsy (to show exactly where the biopsy was done) is actually in the exact shape of the little pink ribbons that denote breast cancer survivors.
. My eyes welled up with tears at the thoughtfulness of whoever came up with that shape for the marking clips. I feel like I now carry around a very special symbol inside of me.
The mammo technician and i also talked a lot about my "normal" mammogram from 8 months ago. One of the hallmarks of most breast cancers are calcifications. They are pretty easy to spot in a mammogram and most breast cancers that are found through mammograms particularly when they are very small have micro-calcifications that show up well....particularly with digital mammography. My kind of cancer has no calcifications and I have really dense breasts, so my kind of cancer is much harder to spot in the early stage through mammograms. Some ductal cancers don't show up at all on mammograms according to the technican. I'm a big believer in getting routine mammograms, and I had done it for years, but I now know how important it is not to think your are home free just because a mammo comes back "normal." Lumps need to be checked out.
Next, I had my ultrasound done. I had alreaded decided I was going to ask the technican to tell me exactly what size it is and how it compared to the ultrasound taken about 28 days ago. She said, "of course!" I like ultrasounds of the tumor. They seem to be very accurate, don't hurt and don't involve radiation. I wish they would do one every time i came in. Anyway, I watched as she measured it on the screen. Then she pulled up last month's report. In one view, the measurements were exactly identical. In another view, the new measurements were actually slightly smaller than in the original. I thought that was GREAT!!! That means that for the past month while all these tests have been going on, the cancer hasn't grown....and, in fact, may be starting to shrink! This is particularly awesome considering this cancer has been rated "high rate" "high grade" according to the pathology report at Vanderbilt.
It looks like all the healthy stuff I've been doing may be contributing to at least holding my ground with this cancer! I am elated at that news at this point. It gives me incentive to keep up the things I'm doing. If this ketogenic diet is going to work, it should do it fairly quickly. I had planned to do it for four weeks and then decide whether to stick with or switch back to higher carbs and use more vegetable sources of protiens.
Long story short, my decison to delay the chemo seems to make sense given I'd like to try the experimental drug.
I'm feeling a lot more optimistic as I begin to get encouraging test results. That's a wonderful feeling!
Life is good!
Hope you have a wonderful weekend.