With three out of four of her children and my Dad crowding the examining room at the Doctor’s office, Mom met with her Oncologist a few hours ago. Dr. Reyes is the same Doctor who took her through her Breast Cancer treatments, when it first appeared 4 years ago. He was very disappointed with the Biopsy results, showing that the same aggressive Cancer that she once fought and seemed to have conquered, is in fact back and now in her bones. It has a name now, Metastatic Mammary Carcinoma. She falls in the 20% of patients with a reoccurence. It has metastasized (spread) to 6 places already: neck, spine, 6th rib, right hip, a lymph node near her collar-bone, and pelvic bone. The good news from the scan is that there were no fractures seen in any bones at this point.
Dr. Reyes said that he has no regrets about the course of treatment that they took from the start – that as aggressive as the Cancer was, the treatments were very aggressive as well. He felt that they did more than they should have, and it still came back. She’s now stopped taking the drug, Femara, which is intended to stop estrogen production in postmenopausal women used to treat early estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer like hers. Obviously that hasn’t helped in her case. The Herceptin, which is recommended after surgery and chemotherapy is a monoclonal antibody that targeted the HER-2 protein, meant to help the chemotherapy work better…that caused heart problems a few years ago. Thankfully the damage to her heart was not permanent, earlier tests this year revealed.
Since she had already planned to get a 2nd opinion on treatments, Mom was really glad when Dr. Reyes said that he’d like to refer her to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville to the Breast Cancer team under Dr. Perez–considered among the best in the country. Mayo oncologists are known to use innovative therapies to treat even the rarest cancers, all while trying to help patients maintain a quality of life. They are even able to utilize drugs in clinical trials, so they have access to treatment that Mom’s current doctor does not.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, Chris asked Dr. Reyes, “Why was this Cancer not found before – with all the continued tests that you’ve done?”
“That’s a good question,” the Doctor replied. “I would say that there is no test that is 100% fool-proof, unfortunately.”
Then it was my Dad’s turn. “Would you consider this Bone Cancer terminal?”
Dr. Reyes replied, “I define ‘terminal’ as end stage Cancer, where the patient has 6 months or less. So no, I would not consider it terminal. Could it eventually take her life? Unfortunately yes.”
Yet as an Oncologist, the Doctor said he’s an optimist. They are well paired then, as so is my Mom. He feels that the treatments they give her can extend her time with reasonable quality of life.
Mom has been a true witness of a woman of faith and courage throughout this time of testing and waiting over the past several weeks. She admits she is doing much better with it this time around. Looking sympathetically at my Dad, the Doctor said that the spouses often do worse than the patient.
Complaining of pain under her right breast, Dr. Reyes sent Mom straight from his office to get a CT Scan. He wanted to ensure it wasn’t a blood clot. We are awaiting the results of that, but the technicians said it doesn’t appear to be a clot. She will start receiving Zometa injections, which are monthly bone-strengthening intravenous medication. This is to help prevent or delay broken bones or other bone damage. Currently there are no restrictions in her activity or diet. Sadly she will need to cease sky-diving though, LOL!
My family is so grateful for a perfectly timed holiday weekend that we could almost all steal away to be together. As pictured below, Mom has kept the party going and her ultimate Margaritas flowing. We are celebrating life in many ways, and are about the task of making more great Sanchez family memories. A family weekend of fun, good food & drink, surprises, and lots of love. I ask, what could be better?
I cannot express enough how grateful we’ve been for the outpouring of support in the form of: emails, calls, Facebook postings, cards, and especially prayers and Masses offered. Please keep them coming, as this leg of the journey has only just begun.