When Treatments Fail
In the year and half since my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, I have been on three treatments. As my cancer has invaded my skeleton, it is really hard to track it properly. We use nuclear bone scans, CT scans, and tumor markers aka cancer antigens or, for me, CA 27.29. Tumor markers are an imprecise way to keep track of spreading cancer. However, if they continue to go up, there is usually something going on, even if the scans are showing stability.
Tamoxifen and radiation were my first line of attack. My scans remained stable and my markers went down. For seven months. Then my markers suddenly shot up and continued going up. In April 2017, I started my second line of treatment, Ibrance w/ Letrozole. Once again, my scans were mostly stable and my markers dropped, but just a small amount. By February 2018, it was clear that this treatment wasn’t working well for me. We replaced the Letrozole with Faslodex injections. This combination did not work at all for me.
I am going to take an intermission here to explain nuclear bone scans. These scans are really fascinating. At least to me. About 6 hours before the actual scan, I am injected with a dose of radioactive tracer. I believe it is technetium 99 (Tc99). The techs always tell me that I am safe around people, but I do give off radiation. My husband has measured it in the past. After this injection, I need to drink a lot of water and pee as much as I can. This helps to get rid of the radiation that did not stick to my bones.
During the scan, I can see my skeleton appear on a screen as the scanner passes over me. Or I could if I was able to wear my glasses. People who come with me to the scan can watch my skeleton. The scanner itself reminds me of an iron and the surface I lay on looks a lot like and ironing board. The scan gets really up close to my face to start with. I usually close my eyes, which usually leads to me falling asleep for most of the scan. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour. I get in a nice power nap.
Back to treatment failures.
My last bone scan was on March 23. It showed progression of cancer in my left leg and slight progression on my skull. My CT scan on March 26 showed cancer lesions are now on my liver. I had really high hopes for Ibrance. It, and other 4/6 inhibitors, have been almost like a miracle treatment for many people living with MBC. My disappointment is indescribable. I had expected to be on Ibrance for at least 3 years. I got in 12 cycles/12 months.
I am now preparing to start IV chemotherapy for the first time. The chemo combination I have agreed to go with is Adriamycin with Carboplatin. My sessions will be one day every three weeks for four sessions. I hope that makes sense. It looks like each session will take at least two and a half hours.
I will be losing my hair again, but I don’t mind. Actually, I will also lose my eyelashes and eyebrows. I did lose half of my lashes and brows on the left side from radiation on my outer left eye orbital. That was hard. I am not a vain person, but I hated seeing my lashes look so ragged. It was also painful getting lashes in my eye. I might start working on drawing eyebrows. I have failed miserably in the past when I have tried to do this.
I will also be getting Granix injections for about 5 days in a row after my sessions. My white blood cells will completely tank on me. Granix will help them to come back faster. These are shots in the belly, which I do kind of mind.
Before starting chemo, I will be getting an echocardiogram to make sure my heart can handle this. I will also be getting a brain MRI due to dizzy spells. I am not normally an anxious person, but this on top of the changes has got me on edge. I guess my anxiety coping mechanism is cleaning. My upstairs living room is almost spotless. As spotless as four kids and two dogs will allow it to be. My basement living room is almost as clean. My kitchen is still a mess, but my dishes are as caught up as they can be. Those who know me know how miraculous this is. I will be mopping my kitchen tomorrow and setting up an Easter themed table cloth on the table.
Emotionally, I am feeling furious right now. It’s kind of like having a furnace in the pit of my stomach. And I don’t want it to get low or go away. I was angry like this after my diagnosis and I thought it was the right thing to try to ease that anger. I have a right to my fury. There is nothing about this that is ok. Cancer fucking sucks. It sucks for me, for my family, and for my friends.
If you wish to help me as I get used to my new path, I am currently accepting all forms of good vibes, positive energy, prayer, and good thoughts. I will also accept silly things that make me laugh and distract me.