What a week!

From the moment I checked in on Wednesday, June 21st, for my 6:45 am start time at MD Anderson’s Mays Clinic I knew I was in the right place for my cancer treatment. MD Anderson is the number 1 hospital in the country for cancer care, and it immediately became evident to me how and why it has earned its stellar reputation. Everyone I’ve encountered has demonstrated an expert skill level. From the receptionists to the techs to the doctors, everyone has been exceedingly kind, gentle and encouraging…Tests and procedures get done without any undue or unnecessary delay; preliminary results can be provided within minutes. The doctors recognize and understand the aggressive nature of Triple Negative, Inflammatory Breast Cancer, staging treatment quickly and efficiently.

I met with the IBC Clinic team first thing Wednesday morning, including Radiation Oncologist-Dr. Wendy Woodward; Oncologist-Dr. Vicente Valero; Surgeon Dr. Mediget Teshome. From Wednesday to Friday an unrelenting flurry of appointments, tests and evaluations determined my baseline health status and diagnosis accuracy. My overall health (aside from this stinky cancer) would help identify the most effective medical approach for me. I’ve lost track of how many MRIs, ultrasounds, scans, and blood draws I’ve had so far. A biopsy of a lymph node above my collar bone was performed and determined to be cancerous. A skin biopsy was performed on my left breast where an “orange peel” appearance had taken effect. Thank goodness for sisters Sally Jo and Jenny. They followed me from floor to floor, building to building, making certain I stayed hydrated and nourished.

And, what blessing my California based hot yoga class has turned out to be! While the 26/2 positions have certainly enhanced my strength and flexibility, it is the meditation and breathing exercises that have proved instrumental to enduring the more challenging and painful aspects of diagnosis and treatment staging. I actually felt strong enough the other night to take a 1 hour class at a Houston hot yoga studio near sister Sally Jo’s apartment. I couldn’t do every pose, but that’s o.k. I was there for the meditation, breathing exercises, and one more opportunity to practice hot yoga before port surgery and the onset of chemo. It was a good class, and just what the doctor ordered…

During the initial visit with my Oncologist, Dr. Valero, he briefly mentioned a clinical trial for which I may be eligible. While he did not go into much specific detail, he explained that the trial is run exclusively through MD Anderson, and that the drug has shown “great success” for IBC patients. The drug is called Panitumumab. It’s an FDA approved “antibody that blocks receptors for epidermal growth factor,” and may increase the response to chemotherapy. A researcher associated with the trial told me they are getting “phenomenol results” with Panitumumab.

I learned yesterday that I’ve been approved for the clinical trial and randomized into the group that receives Panitumumab. I am grateful beyond measure.

So, I’m parked here in the Houston Medical Center at sister Sally Jo’s apartment. I’ll receive weekly chemotherapy for the next several weeks. Then, once every 21 days during the 2nd part of the trial. All along the way, I’ll be contributing blood and tissue samples to help the doctors determine how well I’m responding, as well as to research. “Because current treatment regimens are ineffective against a significant number of TNBC (Triple Negative Breast Cancer) patients, new effective treatment strategies are urgently needed.” In recognition of those clinical trial patients whose past contributions are responsible for the potentially effective treatment modalities I will benefit from, it is an honor and privilege to participate in this promising clinical trial.

Today I provided to medical research 7 samples from a core biopsy of the mass. Ugh! Breast biopsies are a pain in the…well, you know what I mean…However, the Radiologist who performed the procedure was so gentle and kind that it really wasn’t too bad, despite the fact she fired off that device 7 times inside the tumor!

At 5:30 am tomorrow I check into the Mays Clinic for the surgical placement of a Power Port, followed by my 1st dose of Panitumumab. And so, cancer treatment begins in earnest with the rising of the sun.

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