A Metastatic Breast Cancer Story

Written by Lynn Wyatt. Posted in Women's Health.

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Lynn Wyatt and her familyI had the most amazing fortieth birthday party. Ever. There were fireworks and not one, but two visits by the local police. People from all over my life were there. There was dancing to Duran Duran, Run DMC and Billy Idol. The last thing on my mind that day was my mortality.
Skip ahead a few months to my annual gynecological exam. I was forty; it was time for my first mammogram. I gladly handed over my breasts to the machine of squash and, honestly, it was no big deal. It still wasn’t a big deal when I was told to return for another mammogram. While I was at my annual appointment all the nurses made it clear that because I had no baseline mammography, a return visit was very typical.
What was not typical was the film of my left breast, in a darkened mammography room that clearly showed a small tumor. Fireworks became waterworks. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 — very early — HER2/neu-positive breast cancer. My tumor was small but aggressive. I decided on a double mastectomy.
Let me stop here. I need to really set the situation up realistically. Stage 1 breast cancer is not necessarily life-threatening. I caught my tumor very early. There was a cocktail of three chemotherapies that were proving very effective in fighting breast cancer. When they harvested lymph nodes during my mastectomy to check for any cancer, all five were negative. I had the best possible prognosis going forward.
I did six chemotherapy treatments after surgery. I lost my hair and rejoiced in my bald head. I was what cancer looked like. I wore my baldness as a badge of courage. After chemo, my hair grew back quickly. I kept it short because I’ve always hated being a slave to my blow dryer and had, as it turns out, a face made for short hair. I sent my son to kindergarten and potty-trained my 3-year-old. I turned 41, 42, 43 and 44. My oncologist pronounced me all but “cured.” My life looked a lot like yours.

I play tennis on two teams. I love tennis. Tennis is my soul, and it is my nemesis. I’ll never be as good as Serena, but tennis forces me to find me. I started having severe back pain during practices and matches. Visits to a chiropractor and physical therapy were doing nothing. Then, after a routine follow-up visit with my oncologist, I got a call that they wanted to do a CT scan. My liver enzymes were elevated. “No big deal,” my nurse said. “We send patients like you for these all the time, and it’s usually nothing.” I believed her. I was “all but cured.”
I spent a couple of very tense days where nothing but my mortality was on my mind. Then I got the call no patient ever wants. The one from my doctor’s phone extension, the one that starts, “Hi Lynn, are you driving?” My two children were sitting on the couch with me. I swallowed hard and, heart pounding, I walked away into another room. “Your CT scan shows lesions on your liver and from your neck to your femur on your skeletal system. I believe that your breast cancer has metastasized.” Whoosh — the sound of my mortality growing smaller like the air escaping from a balloon.
A brain MRI showed I had one more lesion in my brain. Seriously? A brain tumor too? At this point I start referring to my cancer in a very negative way. It is real to me — a monster hiding in the corner just waiting for the right moment to pounce. It has the power to wreak havoc on my life at its whim. I hate it. My prayers sound like screaming. They are always directed at Cancer.

There are no surgeries available to me now. I have Stage 4 cancer. I rarely refer to it by the stage, however. In my mind, that is someone else — someone who has incurable cancer. That can’t be me. I am only 46. Metastatic cancer is a whole new ball game. It is a war with many battles, and I have come to fight armed with all the latest technology. (Not to mention, the biggest, baddest attitude ever.)
I immediately received radiation for some very painful spots on my spine that turn out to have some very nasty tumors. It is successful. I received cutting edge radiation on my brain — thousands of tiny lasers pointed directly at my brain tumor — to destroy it. It is successful. After radiation, I began a new cocktail of chemotherapy. I am so lucky (yes, lucky!!) to have breast cancer now. Doctors and researchers are so close to cracking the code that my mantra has become “hang in there until.”
Medicine — chemotherapy in particular — has progressed to where it can target my very specific HER2/neu-positive breast cancer.
I am writing this story 1½ years since I started treatment for metastatic breast cancer, and my most recent PET scan showed no evidence of cancer. My oncologist once told me if I Googled my life expectancy after diagnosis, it would say two years. In six months, I will beat that statistic. Then I’ll take on the next.

Lynn Wyatt at age 40, Lynn Wyatt was busy keeping up with her two young children, ages 7 and 10, when she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer. The cancer metastasized four years later, meaning it spread to other organs in her body outside the breast. Now five years after her original diagnosis, Lynn continues to play tennis on two recreational teams and enjoys bike rides with her kids. She aspires to see her children graduate from college and get married. Additionally, Lynn dedicates her time to speaking about the importance of bringing new medicines to women with metastatic breast cancer.

As a person living with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer, Lynn is receiving treatment with a regimen containing Perjeta, Herceptin and chemotherapy. Here is additional information about HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer and the treatment Lynn receives.
* HER2-positive breast cancer is characterized by aggressive tumor growth and a poor prognosis, and affects approximately 25 percent of people with breast cancer.
* Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is an incurable form of the disease in which the cancer has spread from the original location in the breast to other organs in the body. Nearly 155,000 people in the U.S. are living with MBC.
* Herceptin is a medicine designed to target the HER2 protein on the surface of cells. It is believed to work by stopping signals that make cancer cells grow and divide and signaling the body’s immune system to destroy the cancer cells.
* Perjeta is another medicine designed to block the HER2 protein, but in a different way from Herceptin. The combination of the two is thought to provide a more comprehensive blockade of the signals that make cancer cells grow.
* Perjeta in combination with Herceptin is FDA-approved for people with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. You can find more information about this regimen here.
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