Combined therapy attacks aggressive breast cancer cells from different directions.
By Deborah Circelli
Brandy Eger was just shy of her 40th birthday when her doctor found a lump in her left breast.
A week later, on her birthday, she had a mammogram and later a biopsy.
Eger, a senior vice president at Citi Bank in Jacksonville, was in a meeting when she got the call she was dreading. She excused herself, went into another room, sat on the floor and cried. She had cancer. An MRI would later show she had two tumors and the cancer had spread to some of her lymph nodes.
“I have two boys so there really was no other option for me except to pull myself up and move on and beat this,” she recalled. “To stop for me would have been choosing not to live and that was not a choice.”
Eger had an aggressive form of breast cancer, called HER2-positive, short for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. Cancer cells have too much of the growth-promoting protein on their surface, and breast cancers with too much HER2 grow and spread more aggressively without special treatment.
Eger was given a new treatment that combines traditional chemotherapy with two antibodies. Administered intravenously, the drugs work together to shrink tumors, slow the progress of the cancer and increase survival rates.
“Attacking cancer cells from several different directions is the future so we can minimize the likelihood of resistance to treatment,” said Robert Zaiden, MD, Eger’s medical oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“With more precision and selectivity, it goes straight in and binds to the (HER2) receptor and makes it harder for cancer cells to divide and grow,” he said.
The treatment is called neoadjuvant TCHP chemotherapy and gets its name from the four drugs (Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin and Perjeta. The antibodies are Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab) and Perjeta (pertuzumab).
The combined therapy is administered before surgery to shrink the tumor and minimize the risk of the cancer metastasizing. Following the treatment, Eger had a double mastectomy at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville. She then continued with radiation and was on Herceptin treatment at Baptist MD Anderson, which she finished this past Spring.
Nurses and caterpillars
Eger’s inspiration came from her boys, ages 6 and 9, and her husband, Marcus.
She gave her 9-year-old a journal for him to write questions or comments about her diagnosis.
Sometimes he would write, “I hope you are feeling better” and sometimes he would ask, “When is the chemo going to be over?” He would leave it on her bed or hand it to her at night. Her 6-year-old gave her his stuffed animals to take care of her. A caterpillar stayed with her when she recovered from surgery.
She also credited the nurses who often held her hand and helped her through her treatment. “Without them, I would have struggled. They were there for me all the way through and were just so supportive and sweet,” she said.
She is now on maintenance medication and encourages others not to give up.
“There certainly were days I didn’t think I would get through it and there were days I asked Dr. Zaiden, ‘Why am I doing this again? Please help me remember,’” she recalled. “But you can get through. It’s not going to be fun or the best thing you’ve done in your life, but you can get through it.”
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