So” chemo” is over for me now but I still need to get an infusion of herceptin every three weeks until May 2013 (a full year). This was the one drug that gave me a problem each time I was receiving chemo and would literally burn as it started going in my veins. Through trial and error we found that extending the infusion from 30 minutes to 45 minutes and diluting it with a bag of saline would prevent the burning from occurring. Even so, I was nervous about having to receive a herceptin infusion for a year. On Wednesday, 9/5, I had my first “herceptin only” infusion and except for having to get stuck twice to find a good vein, it went well. No burning! Of course, I had to tell them what to do…I don’t understand why with technology they can’t include this information on the computer screen they bring up for me when I go. It should be listed there…whatever. I was surprised that I wasn’t in the short-stay room (for infusions under one hour). I was looking forward to sitting there talking to other patients during the infusion but was in a private room once again. It worked out okay though as this was after a day at work and I am still a little tired getting back into a new routine so I was able to take a little snooze.
Herceptin is for treatment of early-stage breast cancer that is Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2-positive (HER2+) which is what I am. It is an aggressive early stage breast cancer that about 30% of women with breast cancer have. The HER2 gene makes a protein (HER2 receptor) which is like an antenna on the surface of cells. These receptors receive signals that tell it to grow and multiply. Breast cancer cells can have as many as 2 million receptors on the surface compared to a normal breast cell which only has 20,000 receptors. Cancer grows and spreads rapidly. This is why I was so thankful I was diagnosed while I was still in stage 1. Herceptin is the only approved treatment for HER 2+ cancer. It attaches itself to the receptors and blocks them from receiving growth signals (extracellular), slowing and stopping the cancer. Herceptin alerts the immune system to destroy cancer cells it is attached to, while leaving good cells alone. It also blocks intracellular HER2 signalling. In studies, women who received herceptin for one year had a higher chance of remaining cancer-free longer when compared to women who did not receive herceptin.
Yes, there are side effects. Is there anything medically related that doesn’t these days? I’m not concerned with fatigue and the others but the more serious and less common is that it could cause damage to the heart and lungs. Because of this I have an echo-cardiogram periodically and they are always listening to my lungs. Thankfully all is well.
You would think that it would be a good thing to have extra antennae or ears to pick up signals and grow…except when we’re talking about cancer cells. As humans, we have to be careful about what the antenna in our lives is picking up and what signals are being transmitted to our inner core. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV) We need to be careful what we allow our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and places we allow our feet to take us to.
Next week radiation starts and I’ll update you on that.