Thursday, January 24, 2008

still in the woods

Just when I thought I was out of the woods, home free, exercising, getting my life back together …

The pathologies from my mastectomy looked pretty good to me. Small tumors, clean nodes, clear margins. Even Dr. Rimmer said that I had come out on the good side of the numbers, with a 9mm tumor which is 1 mm shy of the size at which they would recommend chemo.

It seems that there are other factors. Like HER2/neu.

HER2 is a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells. One of every four breast cancers over-produce this protein, which means that the cancer is more aggressive. They think that breast cancers that test positive for HER2/neu are more likely to recur.

I had 2 primary cancers in the breast that was removed. Both were relatively small. The DCIS was more extensive (2.5 cm) but showed small places (1mm) where it was getting out of the duct and becoming invasive (micro-invasion). Both cancer sites tested positive for HER2. The invasive site was less positive (rated 2.something), the DCIS site was more positive (rated 9 something). I don’t have a copy of the report.

If it were not for the HER2 distinction of my cancers, I would definitely not benefit from chemotherapy. As it stands now, it’s unclear whether or not I should be given the drug, Herceptin, which, according to Dr. Bertand, my oncologist, is given with (or as) chemo-therapy. (I still don’t really understand cytotoxic therapy, I’ve been avoiding the topic).

But there is this test - the Oncotype DX assay. It can predict the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence in women with newly diagnosed, early stage invasive breast cancer. That’s me. Oncotype DX also assesses the benefit from chemotherapy.

The test is also very expensive. Like thousands of dollars. Evidently it analyzes the genetic makeup of the cells. Dr. Bertrand says that the results are a good guide to whether or not chemotherapy should be prescribed for people like me. She says that it will help us to decide.

I’m not sure if my insurance will cover it. I have told Dr. Bertrand that if my insurance does not cover it, I am not inclined to pay for it myself. I would rather take my chances and NOT have chemo.

Somehow, I still don’t feel like I have cancer! I feel more like a number on a chart. Maybe all of this radical treatment (mastectomy, chemotherapy) would be easier if I had BIG cancer tumors, or if my lymph nodes were infected with cancer cells and I knew I was in trouble.

Anyway, we’ll see. The test takes 10 days. Dr. Bertrand is going to order it. I have another appointment with her in 2 weeks.