Some new research

Here are two interesting research studies that came to light recently. They are both targeting triple negative breast cancer, so I feel particularly happy about them!

Tissue Around Tumor Holds Key to Fighting Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Might Smallpox Virus Help Fight a Lethal Breast Cancer?

What makes me not feel happy (womp, womp) is seeing TNBC sensationalized as a “lethal” cancer. Way to make all us TNBCers feel warm and fuzzy, media!

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The Emperor

I’ll admit I don’t understand this article. Also, I didn’t read all of it. Coincidentally, I also stopped in the middle of reading the author’s (Siddhartha Mukherjee) book, The Emperor of all Maladies

I stopped for two reasons: 1) I was bored and 2) it scared the crap out of me, because most of the examples in his story were people who were treated and then had recurrences that killed them. Originally, I thought it would be interesting to read a history of cancer. The first couple chapters were really interesting (did you know that one of the first recorded cases of breast cancer came from an ancient Egyptian papyrus, or that mustard gas played a large role in the development of chemotherapy as we know it?), but then it got really scientific and I was less able to follow. It also really brought me down to read story after story of failed courses of treatment. Not what I needed after finishing my own, seemingly “successful” treatment.

Needless to say, I am now reading mindless fiction (Neil Gaiman’s American Gods). I just thought it was important to mention Mukherjee’s article and book, because for doctors, scientists, or others who really want to read about why cancer treatment is where it is today, it’s probably a worthwhile read.

Basser Research Center will focus on BRCA

This is fantastic news. Dr. Domchek was my oncologist in Philadelphia, and she is a wonderful and renowned researcher in the BRCA field. I couldn’t be happier that my hometown is getting this research center. I hope to be able to participate in whatever research they have going on in the future (as a survivor, of course – I’m kind of done with the cancer patient thing and don’t plan to do it again).

Article: Triple-Negative Research

Reading: Groundbreaking Research on Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Gets Boost from Komen

While this article has a positive message (hooray, research specifically geared toward triple-negative breast cancer!), it always scares me when the media talks about this subset of breast cancers because of things like this: “Research suggests that triple-negative breast cancers have a higher proportion of cancer stem cells.” It’s so cold-sounding, matter-of-fact. Like if my doctor were to just come out and say, “Cara, you have triple-negative cancer, and that’s bad because those cancers carry a higher incidence of brain mets, grow more aggressively, and tend not to respond to anything other than chemotherapy. So if chemotherapy stops working, you’re SOL.”

Sigh. It angers me that, though I feel so great about everything right now, one silly article can knock me down a few pegs and again bring about these fears of recurrence and death.

Creating new cleavage

Today was my first tissue expansion! It was actually kind of a “yay” moment amidst all my anxiety about starting chemo (Thursday… eek). For those of you who don’t know, during my mastectomy, the plastic surgeon implanted expanders under my chest muscles. Throughout the next couple of months, these will be gradually expanded so that my skin and muscle stretch enough to make room for the real silicone implant, which I’ll have inserted after all my chemo is finished. That’s called the exchange operation – when the temporary tissue expanders are swapped for the real implants.

Because of the revision I had to have a couple weeks ago, my surgeon had to take down the left expander to almost nothing, and I was quite lopsided. But today, she filled the left side with 120 ccs, almost 2/3 of the way to matching the right side!

Yay for being a little less lopsided and a little more womanly. Yay for being so healed from surgery that my surgeon is okay with expanding me. Yay for not even feeling the small pinprick of the saline tube needle, which was inserted into a port on the expander so the saline could be injected in. Yay for not feeling much tightness or soreness at all, at least not yet. Yay for preemptive Tylenol.

And yay for this article, which totally excites the singer in me: Cancer charity gets funding for choirs after proving the pyschosocial benefits

Cool Cancer Genome project at Vanderbilt

This is a really cool website that, although it’s very new and doesn’t yet mention breast cancer, I think is worth checking out. It’s designed for clinicians to help them get a full picture of cancer genetics.

My Cancer Genome

Given the amount of doctors that don’t seem to know anything about the breast cancer genes (!), I think this is a great tool and I hope more hospitals and cancer centers start to offer it so our doctors can be better informed.

Fighting Cancer, One Enemy at a Time

I remember a while ago having a conversation with a college friend… you know, one of those academic-type paranoid conspiracy theorists… about whether the government had already found a cure for cancer, but they weren’t sharing it because it wouldn’t be profitable for drug companies if everyone with cancer could be cured. I don’t actually believe that… I don’t think… but I guess it does seem like it could be true.

Whether it is or isn’t true, one thing is for certain: there is a lot of cancer research that goes on, and a lot of different theories on how a cure for cancer would work. This article from yesterday’s NYTimes (written by James Watson, I believe of Watson & Crick DNA helix fame) lays out a pretty good plan of attack – getting rid of cancer using our knowledge of cancer’s genetic and chemical makeup. He advocates going “all out” against cancer now, rather than waiting until we have a bigger arsenal against it. Blast cancer now! Don’t wait!

Or at least come up with a cure before I get it. Please?

In other news, I scheduled my yearly appointment with the genetic breast cancer expert at UPenn Hospital, so I’m looking forward to hearing how her thoughts have changed in the past year and if she has any new ideas for preventive care. I was a little disappointed that it took me a half hour of waiting on the phone to learn that the next available appointment isn’t for another month and half… but I sucked it up and scheduled it anyway.