It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s super new treatment!
You remember those Peanuts cartoons when adults spoke and it just sounded like “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah”? Yes, that’s how I get when I hear a bunch of medical/scientific terms thrown around. I have learned a lot in my 13 years as a breast cancer survivor (seven-plus years as metastatic), but sometimes I feel like I just don’t have the brain power to wrap my head around exactly how treatments work.
Hence, as promised, I am going to give you a little, albeit not very scientific, overview of my new clinical trial. Last week (Thursday), Mike and I traveled two hours to Indianapolis to get my first infusion of MGAH22, affectionately known as Fc-optimized Chimeric Anti-HER2 Monoclonal Antibody. Try saying that three times fast! For those of you not in the know, there are two types of targets for breast cancer, 1) estrogen-receptor (ER) and 2) human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Actually there is a third – triple negative – which doesn’t have a target. This sucks and we need to find one!
I have been identified as ER-positive and have been on almost every hormonal treatment available. Although HER2 is the more rare and aggressive, for years, until lately, most of the greatest advancements for targeted treatments have been for HER2. I have to admit, I had some HER2-envy for a while there. Herceptin (generically known as trastuzumab), the grandfather of targeted drugs, was approved in 1998. There was even a movie about it. Sexy, right? It is no panacea, though, as resistance does develop like with other drugs and it can be hard on the heart. There have been other approved HER2 therapies since then, but I digress.
The MGAH22 study is investigating whether someone like me — who has an intermediate level of HER2, but not enough to be deemed HER2-positive — can benefit from this trastuzumab-like drug. I get an infusion once every three weekhs and get scanned after my third treatment to (gulp) see if it works. This is a phase II trial, which means they have tested it on humans to determine a safe dosage, and I’m one of about 40 people on the trial around the country. It’s kind of scary, but kind of exciting. It’s a whole new way to get at this cancer.
I did a Google search to find out exactly how the treatment works, but again I need a medical dictionary to figure out what they are saying about it. I came across this video, in which Mark D. Pegram, MD, from Stanford Medical Center, describes its mechanism. The one thing that stuck in my limited scientific mind was his words, “It’s like a super trastuzumab.” It has enhanced immunological activity, which gives it its super powers. That gives me something to work with. I can visualize Super Trastuzumab, flying in with a cape, attacking my cancer by emboldening my immune system and thus saving me from calamity.
Kidding aside, I am struggling to stay positive and optimistic given the recent passing of our superwoman, Krysti Hughett. It reminds me how even someone as incredibly smart as Krysti can succumb to this stupid disease. Another smart and wonderful friend of mine, Darlene Gant, is fighting for her life right now. It’s just getting too personal for me.
So I’m allowing myself to feel vulnerable, take care of myself, and ask for what I need. I feel a softness that I didn’t allow myself not too long ago. I’m crying more and admitting I don’t have all the answers. I think it’s called growth or maybe it’s just admitting I’m not Superwoman anymore. So once again, I pick myself off the floor and continue living and believing in possibilities. And in a power greater than myself. Maybe I can’t leap buildings in a solid bound, but I’m here and feeling pretty healthy. A little tired at times, but it’s all good.