Do you remember in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Charlie unwrapped his Wonka Bar and found the Golden Ticket when he wasn't expecting it? This is what happened to me on Thursday when my oncologist called me unexpectedly to tell me he had obtained a slot for me in a small and very sought after clinical trial of a new drug for Her2 positive metastatic breast cancer.
Specifically, the trial is for women who have not already been treated with other chemotherapy, so I am extra fortunate this slot came up when it did, as I was supposed to start my standard treatment tomorrow. Instead, I found myself running back and forth to Los Angeles at the end of the week getting myself enrolled, and completing all the extra tests required for the sponsor. I don't think there is a single part of my body that has not been scanned, poked or processed in some way. They should definitely have a pretty clear picture by now of what things look like.
Now, I don't much about biochemistry or genes or cancer cell receptors, but I do know this: my rather even-keeled, realist of an oncologist, who is one of the eight UCLA oncologists on this trial, showed excitement that I have not yet seen and spoke of the high hopes that this new drug is giving. Further, the research doctor who came in to explain the medication and trial to me said straight out that if anything was going to CURE my cancer, this was. Two weeks ago I was told there was no hope for a cure, and hope is such a beautiful thing.
This new drug, as my feeble understanding allows, chemically binds the two standard drugs given to patients in my situation: Herceptin and Taxotere. Herceptin is a very targeted therapy that only finds and destroys Her2 positive cancer cells. Taxotere is a general chemotherapy drug, found to be quite effective when combined with the targeted Herceptin at treating my kind of cancer. However, being a more general drug, Taxotere interferes with healthy cells as well, which is why you lose your hair when being treated with it.
Apparently, when you bind these two drugs together, the result is an extremely potent, very targeted cancer killing machine. Being as targeted as it is, it is my understanding that I will not lose my hair if given this drug instead of the standard treatment. At this point, believe me, losing my hair is far from my greatest concern, but, hey, if I can keep it that's great news!
You may notice that I used the word "if" above. IF I get this new drug. Being that this is a clinical trial, there must be a control group. 50% of people enrolled in this study will receive the new drug and 50% will receive the standard treatment of Herceptin and Taxotere that I was scheduled to begin receiving tomorrow before the trial came up. Of course, it is my great hope that I will be computer randomized into the test group as opposed to the control. However, if I am placed in the control group and do not respond well to standard treatment, my doctor can switch me to the new drug since I am a trial participant. For this reason, we have come to view this trial as my golden ticket, as I will have access to this drug if I need it simply by having lucked into a slot.
To give you an idea of the scope of this and just how fortunate I am to be a part of this, here are some statistics for you: There are 120 people in this trial at 25 centers around the world. There are only 10 enrolled at UCLA, where there are 8 doctors and a full time study nurse following the 10 of us. Regardless of which group I end up in, my case will be scrutinized as if I were a bug under a microscope. In this case, scrutiny is a very good thing.
Just having a study nurse assigned to me is a blessing in and of itself. She is in constant contact with me, letting me know what is happening, what I need to do, and what my test results are looking like. Again, a very good thing.
So, pending my final acceptance in the study, which should come tomorrow, I will begin treatment next Monday the 14th. I truly can't wait to get this started. I am ready!