This has been a strange week for me. My company's annual holiday bowling party was Wednesday night. We have a white elephant gift exchange, a raffle you win tickets for by bowling strikes (which is why I don't ever win the raffle), gifts from our company and general competitve camaraderie. Chris and I hired a babysitter, and I even had a beer. Other than the near-constant application of hand sanitizer (hey, we were at a bowling alley), I almost forgot about the cancer for a bit.
And then I heard the story of another woman who had been through breast cancer three years ago. When I asked how she was doing these days (expecting "great! totally cancer-free! doesn't even think of it anymore!"), I was told the cancer had recently come back, in her bones. Moreover, that there wasn't anything her doctors could do now except manage the pain. What do you say to that? Did I mention she has several young children?
I spent an inordinate amount of time crying at the office on Thursday. I went to a lunchtime yoga class to try to clear my head, and wept in savasana (corpse pose). I left the office early and had to pull over on my way home to compose myself before I pulled into my driveway. Neither Bug nor the nanny needed to see me like that. I repeated the word "fuck" over and over, just in case someone was listening and as if that word would explain everything I was feeling. It might have.
That night, I got a call from one of my best friends. She's a researcher at Genentech, the company that makes Herceptin, which very well may be the drug that saves my life. I had asked her some questions about long-term use of Herceptin, since my oncologist is recommending that I continue to receive it every three weeks for the rest of my life. My friend had incredibly reassuring things to say, but the sentence that continues to resonate in my head is: "Jen, this is the closest thing we've got to a cure." One sentence turned my whole day around.
A thousand miles away, San Antonio hosted a Breast Cancer Symposium this week, which released at least two positive news items for women with disease progression like mine. The first is about a drug, pertuzumab, that (when used in combination with Herceptin) shows even more promise than Herceptin alone for keeping tumors from recurring. Although the new drug is not yet available for purchase in the U.S., an application is pending. The second story had to do with a bone drug that is boosting survival rates in younger breast cancer patients. Scientists think because the drug strengthens bones, it makes it tougher for cancer to spread to them. Bones are one of the more common sites for breast cancer metastases. Halt the disease, increase survival.
Speaking of halting the disease, I have my LAST round of chemo next Friday, December 16th. The following week, I'll have a PET/CT scan to survey my body and see how well this poison did its job. Results on the 23rd will either say there's no evidence of disease left or that I've got to start some other course of chemo in the new year. My gut tells me to expect good news just in time for Christmas. I really hope my gut knows what it's talking about.