Doing my “homework” on my treatment encouraged me to fight cancer – and win

This entry was written by Sue Peracchia with editor notes contributed by LBBC Director of Information and Strategic Intiatives, Janine Guglielmino:

On January 16, 2009 I was given devastating news that I had Stage IV breast cancer. It had spread to my lungs, bones and skull. This diagnosis forever changed not only my life but the lives of my husband, my children, my family and my friends.

In June 2008, Sue developed a cough that started to grow worse. Her husband told her to get it checked. Even though no doctor had suggested it, Sue told her husband, “I think I have cancer.” Further tests confirmed Sue’s fears. The cancer was in her breast, lymph nodes, hips, skull, breastbone and lungs. Sue quickly made an appointment with a surgeon.

Upon meeting with my oncologist he prescribed a treatment plan for me. I called it my “cocktail.” This cocktail consisted of Abraxane, Avastin and Zometa. I did my homework and read up on these drugs and what their job was to stop the progression of the cancer.

Sue had always been a bubbly and sociable person. She loved playing the slots and going “down the shore” to listen to the seagulls or curl up with a romance novel. Now Sue more often found herself alone, scribbling questions in her journal for the doctor.

Because of the tumors in my lungs, I had a very bad cough, difficulty breathing, walking, and going up a flight of stairs. Eventually, I read the benefits of Avastin, a drug that cuts off nutrients that the tumor needs to grow. Therefore, the tumor would shrink. This information challenged me to take on this battle and win the fight!

Sue’s cough improved. After several months, she received good news: a scan showing the cancer had shrunk.

I received Avastin twice a month for almost four months. In total, I had seven rounds of Avastin. I was to receive my cocktail for 12 more weeks but I had responded so well to the drugs that my treatment was stopped. The tumors in my lungs shrunk down to the size of a grain of rice. Also, my tumor markers dropped dramatically.

Her oncologist said she could stop chemotherapy and Avastin and switch to letrozole (Femara) and Zometa. Sue learned she could take this therapy as long as it worked, and she was likely to have other options once it stopped.

My oncologist felt this cocktail of Abraxane, Avastin and Zometa worked for me and my CT scans proved it!

But who’s to say that Sue is done with that “cocktail” for good?

My oncologist told me should I have a recurrence he would follow the same treatment plan for me. I was happy to hear this news knowing he wouldn’t have to resort to a second line of treatment.

But now that I learn that the FDA may not approve the use of Avastin for metastatic breast cancer, I can’t help but to believe that Avastin was beneficial to me. It starved the tumors, hindered them from growing, and prevented the disease from worsening. As a result, my quality of life has improved dramatically since my initial diagnosis.

Sue found herself thinking less and less about breast cancer. She returned to work one day a week. She now volunteers for her high school alma mater, LBBC, and has stopped scoping out the Internet every day. Sue’s big blue eyes light up when she talks about her daughter’s future plans. Possibly because now Sue has hope that she, herself, will be part of them.

I know I cannot be cured but I live and enjoy life to the fullest every day. Avastin should be an option for this incurable disease. My oncologist and I should make the call as to my course of treatment.