Reading and writing lover currently taking a career break to focus my energy on treatment for Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, which has spread to lungs, brain and liver. Blog is an outlet for thoughts and an opportunity to keep people informed of my progress. If my words are helpful to others, that is a bonus.
I am more than my disease so I’d like to tell you more about me than my health. But from previous experience reading blogs, I also know it’s important to provide a summary of my diagnosis and treatment so others with breast cancer can relate their own experiences with mine.
I live in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia with my two dogs. No partner and no children. I have worked in media, communications and public relations for about 20 years and I gave up work in January 2017 so I can take better care of myself, spend more time with friends and family, and enjoy what might be more quality of life than quantity of life.
I was diagnosed with Stage 2B, Grade 3 triple negative breast cancer in June 2015 at the age of 42. A 5-7cm sore lump seemed to appear in my breast almost overnight. I went to see my GP about it about three weeks later after it didn’t go away. I had a mammogram and ultrasound, followed by a core needle biopsy of the breast and a fine needle biopsy of an enlarged lymph node in my underarm. Almost a week later, my GP confirmed that I had breast cancer in my breast and lymph node and would need chemotherapy, surgery and possibly radiotherapy.
I had neoadjuvant chemotherapy:
- four fortnightly doses of doxorubicin (also known as Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide (a combination commonly known as AC)
- 12 weekly doses of paclitaxel (also known as Taxol).
Having neoadjuvant chemotherapy was supposed to help reduce the size of the tumours before surgery so I could possibly have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy. The chemotherapy was unsuccessful in reducing the size of the tumours so I had a mastectomy of my right breast and full axilla clearance of lymph nodes under my right arm. I had a tissue expander placed in my breast to hold the space until I could get a reconstruction of my right breast.
After the surgery, the pathology report showed that there were clear margins around the tumours and the cancer had affected only one of the lymph nodes removed. However, it also showed that the cancer was still quite active at the time of surgery and had been fairly resistant to the chemotherapy. Many of the indicators for recurrence were quite high.
My medical oncologist suggested we try a preventative measure of further chemotherapy following radiotherapy. I had 30 radiation treatments of my breast and lymph nodes over six weeks. During the planning process for my radiotherapy, an enlarged mammary node in the middle of my chest was identified. While my doctors could not be certain it was cancerous, it was included in my radiation treatment.
As a preventative measure, I had six rounds (each round taking three weeks) of the oral chemotherapy drug capecitabine (Xeloda) after I completed radiotherapy. I then I had a CT scan to check if the mammary node had shrunk following the radiation and chemotherapy treatment. The CT scan showed it had shrunk but also revealed some shadows in my lungs. I had a cold at the time of the scan and had been coughing so it may have been related to the cold, rather than being cancerous. So we waited a month and I had another CT scan and this scan confirmed that I had secondary tumour growths in my lungs, a recurrence of the breast cancer on my chest wall and the mammary node had increased in size again.
In early October 2016 I was told I had Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and that it was incurable, but there were chemotherapy regimes we could try to reduce or stop the tumours growing. I had five rounds of eribulin (Halaven), with each round taking three weeks to complete. A CT scan showed continued progression of metastatic disease while having eribulin.
I planned to become part of an immunotherapy trial in February 2017, but a lesion was found on my brain during the screening process, which ruled me out of the trial. The lesion was in the left ‘motor strip’ section of my brain so it was a bit risky for surgery. I had 10 rounds of stereotactic radiotherapy on the lesion over about two weeks instead. It successfully reduced the tumour to about half its size.
I began three-weekly rounds of the carboplatin/gemcitabine combination chemotherapy in April 2017. After three rounds I had a CT scan, which showed I had a mixed response to the chemotherapy, but with overall progression of metastatic disease, including two new spots on my liver. I then began a chemotherapy regime of carboplatin/paclitaxel. At the same time, I had an MRI on my brain after developing some numbness on my face. It found three new, small lesions on my brain that were treated with stereotactic radiosurgery though none of them appeared to be related to the face numbness.