I hadn’t expected the news I was given today at what I assumed was going to be a routine visit with my oncologist at Dana Farber before my herceptin treatment. I knew that I had had an echocardiogram last week but since I had heard no news I figured the numbers were good.
And yet there was a nagging suspicion yesterday as I drove in the car. I was getting that fluttery heart thing I had gotten before they took me off chemo last time–just sligthly though. I thought it was possibly a little anxiety or maybe dehydration –my water intake had been low. So today when Dr. Anderson told me that my left ventrical ejection fraction had dropped to 45, and that they had to stop my herceptin treatment immediately I was shocked but not completely surprised.
I remember the first time I heard about the drug, herceptin. It was the week between Christmas and New Years and I was trying to make an appointment for a second opinion at Brigham and Woman’s hospital after being diagnosed at Winchester. I was having a hard time getting through to the docs at the Brigham and knew my time was ticking so I drove to Winchester to pick up my records which I was going to hand deliver to Dr. Christian. As I sat in the parking lot and read the pathology report, the reality of my situation finally hit home. I was her2/neu positive. This I knew from my many late-night-internet-breast-cancer-information-searching-sessions was not good news. The fact that I was her2/neu positive meant my cancer was very aggressive and the chance of recurrence was greatly increased. When I got home, I called the nurse at Winchester to get clarification. She said, “yes, you are her2/neu positive but thankfully we now have the drug herceptin that specifically battles that form of breast cancer.”
It didn’t make me feel that much better. I researched the drug. Herceptin which came into play about 10 years ago was the newest form of chemo –targeted therapy. As opposed to the other forms of chemo that hit all fast growing cells and make you lose your hair and get mouth sores and throw up, herceptin only seeks and destroys cancer cells allowing you to live a normal life while on the therapy. Still, the side effects were present and the thought of those and the fact that I had to have infusions every 3 weeks for a full year made me less than thrilled to have to be taking the drug.
But after AC and Taxol, herceptin was a breeze. I started to look forward to my treatments because they didn’t make me sick and I knew that this drug was keeping those nasty her2/neu cancer cells from reappearing in my body. After every infusion I felt stronger; armed for battle with a body full of herceptin ready to fight.
I have known all along that the herceptin, especially when preceeded by AC is very heart toxic. I have been through this once before. But I was really hoping it was the Taxol that messed up my heart last time. The problem now is that they can only stop and re-start herceptin so many times. Actually she told me that they will do it twice. This is my second time. For now I am off herceptin for 4 weeks. After that time they will re-test my heart and then Dr. Anderson, along with my Cardiologist (Doogie Howser) and myself will decide what to do. Dr. Anderson thinks that this may be it. That they may not be able to give me any more herceptin. The risk that of my heart not returning to normal function gets greater with each incident. They are never quite sure which time will be the time that my heart just continues on the bad path to congestive heart failure.
I do not want to stop the herceptin. I do not want to give those pesky cancer cells any chance to re-group. This scares me. Congestive heart failure scares me. But I have faced scary things all year; so what. Because,on the other side of this, I ran a race last week and came in 5th in my age group. I did this not knowing about my bad heart. Who knows, maybe if my heart was better I would have come in first. So I will continue to run and pretend I don’t know. And once again….we will wait and see.