Cancer is characterized by rapid cell division/growth. The ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells depends on its ability to halt cell division. Usually, the drugs work by damaging the RNA or DNA that tells the cell how to copy itself in division. If the cells are unable to divide, they die. Chemotherapy is most effective at killing cells that are rapidly dividing. Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not know the difference between the cancerous cells and the normal cells. The “normal” cells will grow back and be healthy, but in the meantime side effects occur. The “normal” cells most commonly affected by chemotherapy are also cells that divide and copy quickly – blood cells, cells in the mouth, stomach and bowel, and the hair follicles; resulting in low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, and/or hair loss.
This morning we met with Dr. Mary Ann Rose, Professor and Medical Director of UC San Diego Radiation Oncology. She spent over an hour with us, going over the various procedures and timing. Now that I’ll be starting chemo on December 9 (just got off the phone with the office), I won’t be starting radiation until mid-April. So we’ll be going over most of this again at that time. The chemo will run until mid-March, and then I get 3-4 weeks off to recover before starting 6 weeks of radiation, which should finish by the end of May.
Yesterday’s appointment with Dr. Subramanian yielded the news that my gene expression results indicate I will likely benefit from chemotherapy. The oncotype test looked at a panel of 21 genes in the tumor tissue from my lumpectomy to calculate a recurrence score from 0-100. It helps identify which women with early-stage, estrogen receptor positive (ER+) [HER2- and post-menopausal with lymph node negative (N-)] invasive breast cancer are more likely to benefit from adding chemotherapy to their treatment.
I'm learning more about my art, and from my art, every day. It's not so much a matter of skill or practice... mostly it's a shift in perspective, a way of shaping how I look at and exist in the world.
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