In the Suburbs / Dedicating a month a year is not enough to wipe out breast cancer
Long-time friends Dena and Frannie were taken too young. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt and my sister-in-law were all survivors, despite radical mastectomies or lumpectomies. Other women are being diagnosed with very aggressive breast cancers and are facing an unfair, debilitating battle or even a death sentence.
According to current health statistics, about 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected in women in 2018 in the United States and those could result in some 40,920 deaths.
As we near the end of Breast Cancer awareness month, there is more reason to be optimistic than pessimistic. One area that I found particularly interesting and encouraging was research that is currently being done about the benefits of combining immunotherapy and chemotherapy for high risk patients. This research,which was discussed in a story in last Sunday’s New York Times, focused on more aggressive forms of breast cancer.
According to reporter Denise Grady, “women with an aggressive type of breast cancer lived longer if they received immunotherapy plus chemotherapy, rather than chemotherapy, a major study has found.
The results are expected to change the standard of care for women like those in the clinical trial, who had.advanced cases of ‘triple-negative’ breast cancer. That form of the disease often resists standard therapies, and survival rates are poor. It is twice as common in African-American women,and more likely to occur in younger women.”
As I read about this new study about combining immunotherapy and chemotherapy, I couldn’t help feeling a deeper sense of loss about our dear friend Dena, who finally gave up on an array of experimental treatments for her invasive breast cancer just over a year ago, entered home hospice and died barely two weeks laterr. I never knew whether she had “triple-negative” breast cancer, but I do know that the last two years of her life were filled with frustration and pain and my wife and I ache every time we think about the valuable life she led and how she was robbed of the beauty of seeing her two grandchildren grow up -- death came only weeks before her second grandchild was born.
Our other close friend Frannie had been misdiagnosed many years ago and as her disease progressed, she and her husband had moved to Florida with some hope that she would ultimately beat the disease. Frannie died just within the last 10 years, and so many of these new treatment ideas hadn’t even been studied or tested. We miss her and regret that she was so far away from our group of long-time friends when she passed away. Her spirit up to the end was amazing.
I recently heard about a young woman who was probably in her 30s when she was diagnosed, and despite radical surgery and treatments there was nothing that could have been done. Dina, the manager of the diner where I eat everyday, gave me regular reports on the young woman’s condition right up to the end. She left behind her husband and two very young children.
In my own family, my grandmother, mother and aunt each had mastectomies and were survivors even in times when experimental treatments were still evolving. After her second mastectomy, when she was in her 80s, my mom took Tamoxifin, which helped her a great deal, and she lived to be 90. Her death ultimately came from lung cancer.
At the time of the surgery, my father urged my brothers and me to consider getting tested as a carrier of the Brcca Gene, which was quickly becoming a source for breast cancer problems. I never heard my father so adamant about anything . I never did the test, but still may consider it. And I have brought it up to our daughters, even though my had a lumpectomy and the results were negative.
“The immunotherapy in the recent New York Times study was atezolizumab (brand name Tecentriq), which belong to a class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. The chemotherapy was nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane)”
The reporter in the Times pointed out that “Checkpoint inhibitors like atezolizumab work by helping T-cells--a type of white blood cell that is part of of the immune system--recognize cancer and attack it.”
From what I read in The New York Times the immunotherapy/chemotherapy cocktail could be a strong contributor to improved recovery among more invasive forms of breast cancer. I hope the ongoing test results will prove successful. Those in the medical field are praising the possibilities for this form of therapy.
But dedicating one month out of the year to acknowledging a disease that impacts so many of our loved ones hardly seems appropriate. We need to dedicate every month of the year to wiping out this horrible disease or bringing it under control...And we should support any research efforts that will make a critical difference in helping patients with invasive forms of breast cancer.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.