A ‘new normal’?

Cancer Word Map

Prior to being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer I took one pill a day for a history of bipolar disease. Thanks to that one little pill I have been able to live a ‘normal’ life free of the intense highs and lows BPD can bring.

The reality is I have been incredibly lucky. Despite an extensive family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, I have beaten the odds. While I have always been a bigger fluffy gal, I have always amazed my physicians. My blood pressure is almost always in the normal range, my blood sugars often more on the low side (how that happens with my diet of Dr. Pepper and Starbucks Frappuccinos I’ll never know!) and my cholesterol numbers are always well within range. My bloodwork always almost perfect.

Being sick has always been foreign to me. I averaged one doctors visit every year or two. While there are some women that deal with urinary tract infections as often as other people get a runny nose, I have had only one in my life. Even though I smoked cigarettes I never had any issues with bronchitis or pneumonia. The worst things I had ever dealt with was a bout of the stomach flu or a nasty cold from time to time. I simply just never had the time to be sick.

That all changed when I was diagnosed with cancer. The yearly/biyearly doctors visits became monthly. The one medication quickly turned into thirteen plus a monthly injection. And I guess this is what they mean by my ‘new normal.’

Pills to combat my cancer. Pills to treat the nausea the cancer medications give me. Vitamins to help strengthen the bones that cancer ate away at. God willing I will be able to manage my cancer through oral medication for years to come. This is what we call a ‘new normal.’ Better living through chemistry, right?

I am one of the lucky ones. These thirteen medications I take each day are successfully beating my cancer into submission (but not remission). The medications have significantly reduced the pain that had debilitated me and made it almost impossible to do something as simple as go to the bathroom.

For so many others, metastatic breast cancer involves mastectomies, ports, chemotherapy and radiation. For them it involves uncontrollable pain, nausea that won’t fade and a diminished overall quality of life. And for these fighters it involves end-of-life decisions at all ages. It doesn’t care whether you are twenty or ninety. No matter the age, no one is safe from this relentless killer disease.

I have mixed feelings about advertisements I have seen for these two metastatic breast cancer medications. It is funny. These ads are not new, however until I was diagnosed they were merely background noise as any other commercials are for me. I was too busy wandering into the kitchen to grab a bowl of chips or a glass of soda. I was too busy sending texts or checking Facebook. Now I seem to see them no matter where I turn.

Cancer in textbook

Whether it is Pfizer’s Ibrance promoting living a ‘new normal’ with metastatic breast cancer or Eli Lilly’s Verzenio helping relentless women fight a relentless disease, both sugarcoat what the disease can become. These advertisements portray it as peppy women living an active life. It shows them going about their everyday life as though nothing were different.

These advertisements ignore what metastatic breast cancer can become. It ignores the anxious visits to a chemotherapy suites or the uncontrollable nausea it can cause. It glosses over radiation, incredible pain, and ultimately death. These ads further perpetuate the ‘pink washing’ that gives the impression that all breast cancer can be beaten, that in the end we can join the ranks of the survivors.

Ibrance new patient kitI am immensely grateful for the combination of Ibrance and letrozole. I have been incredibly blessed that so far my cancer has responded very well to them. The tumor in my left breast has shrunk to where it is difficult to locate it and my tumor markers have improved dramatically. My ‘new normal’ isn’t that much different than my ‘old normal.’ Once I am cleared to return to work my life won’t be that much different than it was before September 25, 2018.

Even for the lucky ones such as myself, these commercials ignore one other unseen part of the ‘new normal’ life with metastatic breast cancer. Each and every day we wake up and pray today isn’t the day these ‘wonder’ drugs stop working. We pray that they continue to prevent tumor growth. We pray that our ‘new normal’ lasts for many years rather than just days or months.

Warm and fuzzy advertising campaigns can’t change the cold, cruel reality. Metastatic breast cancer is a fight that will never end until a cure is found.

Note: This the first video is an advertisement for Pfizer’s Ibrance (the medication I am currently prescribed) and the second video is for Eli Lilly’s Verzenio, the photo is of the Ibrance new patient starter kit.

Jennifer – Extensive mets to bones. Diagnosed de novo at 43 of ‘unknown cancer’ on 9/25/2018, official diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer with bone metastasis on 10/9/2018. Cancer won’t win. I won’t let it. Life’s too short not to fight for every minute.
Dx 10/9/2018, invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), left breast, 1.5cm, Nottingham Grade 6, hormone receptor positive, ER+ (estrogen receptor)/PR+ (progesterone receptor), HER2- (human epidermal growth factor), BRACA- (genetic mutation), Stage IV, metastasized to bones
First CA 27.29 10/9/2018 83 (goal <38)
Hormonal Therapy 10/12/2018 Tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Apo-Tamox, Tamofen, Tamone) pills
Targeted Therapy 10/12/2018 Xgeva (Denosumab) injection
Hormonal Therapy 10/19/2018 Lupron Depot (Leuprolide Acetate) injection
Surgery 11/29/2018 Vaginal hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy
First CA 27.29 post hysterectomy 12/10/2018 73 (goal <38)
Hormonal Therapy 12/11/2018 Femara (letrozole) pills
Targeted Therapy 12/23/2018 Ibrance (palbociclib) capsules
First CA 27.29 post medication change 1/10/2019 60 (goal <38)