A quick re-cap for newcomers to this blog: I was diagnosed with breast cancer (Stage 1) and spent approximately 1.5 years doing alternative treatments, but the tumour kept growing so I had a mastectomy. I woke up from the mastectomy to find my left arm paralysed because of nerve damage (to the brachial plexus) caused by tractioning of the arm during surgery. I had to have further surgery to release the nerve and because of that, I had no conventional adjuvant treatment. Nine months after the mastectomy, the cancer recurred. This is a summary of the options I was exploring after the recurrence.
We all want tidy endings to healing journeys.
We’re programmed through myths and story-telling and Hollywood Blockbusters, to expect tidy endings, happily-ever-after fairy-tales.
With the recurrence, it was as if the story I was writing for my healing wasn’t coming through. I know loads of people who have done the surgery- chemo-radiotherapy route and the cancer vanishes and they live happily ever after, in remission for the rest of their lives.
But I was on a different story track.
Writing this with the luxury of retrospect, I was running around like a headless chicken trying to find ways to get rid of the cancer.
So, for newcomers, a quick recap of the back story: I had a mastectomy, and when I woke up from surgery, discovered my left arm was paralysed. This had been caused by damage to the brachial plexus nerve that controls the arm. I had to have further surgery to free the injured nerves.
It took about nine months before I was finally able to lift my left arm, and control it. It was a dark time, and I remember being in a state of numbness most of the time. I still look back on that period with a sense of incredulity, and amazement that I got through it.
In those nine months, to give my arm the best chance of healing, my surgeon and I took the decision not to have any active treatment in case they damaged the nerves. I was also hoping that the treatments I’d had at Hallwang Private Oncology Clinic in Germany would help.
Outside the clinic, snow lay thickly on the ground. Inside, I lay under hot lamps, my core temperature raised to 39 degrees. The doctor wiped my forehead with washcloths dipped into the snow from the balcony. How cool was that?
This was my introduction to whole-body hyperthermia, two days after the trans-arterial chemoembolisation (TACE) treatment.
Here are the highlights of what this week had to offer on the latest developments and news about cancer treatments.
TOP STORY OF THE WEEK
Pet dog saves owner’s life after sniffing out her breast cancer
My absolute top favourite of this week is a story of a woman whose dog sniffed out her breast tumour. I love it because in an age where cancer detection is carried out with high-tech devices like Pet scans and ultrasound, and costs a fortune, along comes Daisy the spaniel, who nose trumps technology. We’ve heard of CAT scans, now here comes a DOG scan! It’s not the first time a dog has detected cancer in its owner, of course. It just makes me wonder why there aren’t a trained posse of dogs in every hospital to help in early cancer detection.
2. School-age drinking increases risk of breast cancer
I can’t see this stopping teenage girls from drinking, can you? When you’re young, you think you’re invincible and believe that cancer is a disease of the old.
Updated 25 January 2014 with US FDA approval guidelines
Life at the clinic was on fast forward all the time.
Barely two days after my arrival at the clinic I was put on my first treatment, Removab, a tri-functional antibody.
Here’s my layman understanding of what it is all about:
Antibody (from wikipedia)
What is an antibody?
An antibody is a large Y-shaped protein. It is used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign organisms like bacteria and viruses.
An antibody recognises what organism to attach itself to and attack, by matching up to a specially-shaped receptor on the organism. This receptor is called an antigen.
An antigen is a molecule capable of stimulating an immune response, and is often produced by cancer cells or viruses.
Think of the tip of the Y of the antibody as a lock, and the antigen as the only key that fits that particular lock.
photo credit: thecolour.com, with edits
Herceptin is an example of a monoclonal antibody that targets the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) protein on the surface of tumour cells.
What is a tri-functional antibody?
photo credit: GNC Live Well Philippines
Please read this article in the Daily Mail (a UK newspaper) about a West End star, who had cancer. The irony was that she died very suddenly, not from the cancer itself, but from a condition that was preventable: blood clots.
(many thanks to the family of Sophiya Haque for allowing her case history and celebrity status to be used in publicising this condition.)
The little known fact is: anyone with cancer has blood that is stickier.
Apparently, tumours produce molecules called proagulants that make the blood clump together more readily.
By then I’d grown to dread the stress of the 3-monthly scan. The apprehension, the scan, the results, the disappointment (or elation). I knew that I could not continue to live with a tumour that could or could not shrink.
The tumour was consuming my life and my thoughts – I spent most of my time researching new cures and treatments.