By Rachel Pappas, Freelance Writer
Hope can keep you going when you’ve got a life-threatening illness. That’s why the idea of participating in a clinical trial on a potentially promising new cancer drug appealed to me.
But it scared me too. With any study, there are unknowns and risks. “What do you think of the study”? I asked my oncologist when she told me about the project. “I think it’s a good opportunity to possibly advance medicine. I want to see breast cancer cured.”.
If this treatment, lxibepilone, ends up making a huge difference, it could be the first medical breakthrough in over a decade for the disease I had – Triple Negative Breast Cancer – a very aggressive disease with a high risk for re-occurrence.
My oncologist’s sister is in a similar trial for the same illness. That scored big with me – along with her true belief that the study drug is, at the least, as good as the conventional therapy. I signed the trial consent form on the spot, hearing all that I needed (or maybe wanted) to know.
But after shifting into dwelling mode, my skepticism got on the loose. What if the drug wasn’t as good? What if researchers discover in five years the cancer typically comes back with a vengeance?
I dug deeper for what information I could find, learning that so far the drug was showing small promise in advanced stage patients with no other options. But researchers were now finding it was knocking out entire tumors in some cases where patients’ cancer had not spread as far.
Deciding to go for it, I began the battery of tests required to be an honorary guinea pig. This particular study was looking, specifically, to see how lxibepilone worked in early stage patients like myself. The screening was for extra assurance that candidates’ breast cancer was, indeed, “early stage”.
I have to do what?
The process was nerve wracking. A CT scan showed something on my liver, which I learned when I showed up for my first treatment and it was canceled. Wouldn’t you know that the follow up MRI to rule out liver cancer came back non-conclusive? Meanwhile, my oncologist was out of town, and I had to await her return to hear if I’d need a liver biopsy.
“We see these things on the scans all the time, and I’m 95 percent sure everything’s fine. If you were doing conventional therapy, I would have you begin now”, my doctor’s partner told me. “But these studies have strict protocols. I am so sorry. I can’t make the call for my partner”.
Giving Up? Not so much
I could have bagged the trial, but I felt vested after all I’d been through. Nervous about delaying chemo, even a week, but vested. I became more so when my oncologist returned from her conference talking about the electricity that was in the air over the latest research in Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
It turns out my liver was fine and I’m participating in the trial. But I was randomly assigned the standard therapy rather than the new one. Learning I would not get the drug I hoped could give me a brighter prognosis was, initially, a huge letdown.
But I’ve since come to see things this way. At least I’m contributing to medical research. And maybe, hopefully, someday this trial and others like it will bring long awaited promise. So today, I say, forge on, science!
Rachel Pappas has written extensively on health care for life style magazines, newspapers, and the health care industry. She brings you news of recent medical breakthroughs; heart-clenching survivors’ stories; women’s, children’s, and seniors’ health issues. And she offers tips and resources for accessing information and supportive services.
To contact Rachel with questions about her write-ups or to inquire about her written services: [email protected]