Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Golden Ticket

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!


Annie Bizzi said...

"I've got the Golden Ticket, I've got a Golden chance to make my way, and with the Golden Ticket it's a golden dayyyyyyyyyyyyy..."--My favorite movie!

Great News!

You were in my dream last night...we were in Mass together and then walked out into a courtroom. You climbed up to the judges desk and sat down. When I asked you what you were doing, you said you were getting to work. With gavel in hand, you were a judge! A few times during the trial you were deliberating, you beckoned one of your court guards to hold a bag you'd get sick into (a pink bag!) Your hair looked great by the way, very Demi Moore... In my amateur dream analysis, you were taking charge of your illness--you were not stepping down in the midst of it all. I woke up feeling gratitude for a gift of strength and courage that could only have been given to you by God, represented in our previous visit together in Mass.

My mom will tell you I have always had a strange intuition--this is a very good sign and I had to share it with you (as weird as it may be)!

Love to all,

Anonymous said...


They need to put you in an even more "specialized" slot. Just last week Blaise very excitedly told me about the scientific studies that prove people who are prayed for recover at a much higher rate. You and I knew that but I love it when science is obliged to record it!

JP is home with the stomach flu, and very earnestly told me he is offering it up for you. Last night I caught him curled up under the tree taking deep breaths of "Christmas-tree-smell" I told him there's such thing as "too much of a good thing" and sent him packing. I wonder if there is such thing as Christmas tree intoxication!

Anna Lisa

antonia said...

what a blessing.
Divine Intervention.


KatieGirl said...

We'll keep those prayers going. All my love and a truck full of chocolate.

Janet said...

Great news! And as a side benefit, you are doing something really special for those who follow in your footsteps in the future.

Micha and Kamil Ustaszewski said...

Dear Suzanne, up to now we were "silent" followers of your blog, of which we learned from your aunt Barbara while we stayed in Taiwan working with her husband John. It is such a nice blog to read - we are really amazed how well you organize your big bundle of children - congratulations to your wonderful family!!! The reason why we chose to write to you is of course your recently started fight against your cancer. We want to let you know that we feel for you and your family and that we pray for you. May God give you and your family strength for this fight! And yes, we also pray for this miracle-thing!!! Best regards, Micha and Kamil

Anonymous said...

Suzanne, this is such great news! I have been praying and thinking of you so much. I've got people you know and some you don't know praying for you :). I'll give a call soon to check in. And PS - what an amazing dream that Andrea had. It represents you at your strongest. You have so many loving people that are rooting for you thru all of the highs (and the lows) of this fight. Love, M.

jen said...

This is amazing!! Love and prayers your way!!

Anonymous said...

Good morning Suzanne,
I know it's gonna sound crazy but you were also in MY dream last night. I had gone to Kaiser for a mammogram and YOU were the tech! Guess it was a combination of hearing from a friend last night who IS a mammo tech and Jerry and I praying constantly for your miracle. Your faith and optimism continue to be an inspiration to all of us out here. I just know you are going to get that miracle!
Love, Toni & Jerry Padgett

Tina said...


Encouraging news! Praying that you are accepted into the study and that it is extremely successful. Everyone up north at St. Rita is praying really hard for you and love you very much. Know that I love you and still miss you being up the street. I probably always will. Love, Tina

Dawn Farias said...

The whole idea of a placebo group makes me so sad. I hope you get the real thing.