Avoiding the Red Devil

To a large extent, you trust your oncologist with your life. When you’re going through the stress of surgery, pathology and figuring out a treatment plan, there’s no way for a lay person to adequately get up to speed. And some people don’t want to, or can’t. They prefer to leave it to the docs.

At UCSF, Dr. Hope Rugo put me on a regimen of Carboplatin and Taxotere times six, plus the monoclonal antibody Herceptin every three weeks for a year.

Even at the time, I knew that lots of women with aggressive cancer pathology like mine had to endure a class of chemo drugs called “Anthracyclines.” Some of the most effective cancer drugs ever devised, anthracyclines were derived from streptomycin bacteria. They interfere with DNA and RNA transcription, thus balling up the cancer cells’ attempts to multiply. The most common of these drugs in breast cancer treatment is “Adriamycin.” Patients call it the “red devil,” because it’s red and causes debilitating side effects, especially damage to the heart. This is a big problem if you’re also taking Herceptin, which also affects the heart. What a drag to be cured of cancer but then have horrible heart problems. I was glad not to have to endure that.

This week, UCLA docs publish a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that says treatment of early stage breast cancer with Carboplatin, Taxotere and Herceptin is just as effective as treatment with Adriamycin and Herceptin, which has been a standard treatment up to now. So, not only do I get to avoid major heart damage, I have a good shot in the recurrence sweepstakes.

Thanks, Dr. Rugo.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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3 Responses to Avoiding the Red Devil

  1. Catherine says:

    This is great news about THC, Heather! I always felt like it was the right tx for me, but nice to have that validated.

    Just read your last few posts–I think I would have felt traumatized by that secrets of survivorship workshop. It’s still hard to hear about recurrence. In some ways my secret is to stick my head in the sand. Trouble is the thought is always in the back of my head, which unfortunately is stuck in the sand with me.

    Thanks for blogging again. xo

    • leftbreast says:

      Catherine, I know that “head in the sand” impulse. I think that’s why I stopped blogging for a bit. We all just do the best we can. I find that it’s most difficult to process famous cancer deaths, like Steve Jobs. Silly, because unfamous people are struggling and dying of cancer all the time. Maybe it’s because it can take down mighty billionaires and national politicians, it makes it that much more scary. We muddle on, I guess.

  2. So glad you didn’t have to take the Adriamycin. Thanks so much for posting this information about TCH. I had not heard of the study and learning its results have truly blessed me. Praise be to God for His mercy and the many blessings He continues to give me.

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