Woman turns to faith, technology to deal with cancerWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | email@example.com
Three years ago, Marion Jones taught her oldest son how to pray again.
He asked her to show him when she revealed she had breast cancer. The now 58-year-old told her sons about death and sickness, and about her faith.
“When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ you think of a death sentence,” Jones said. “But there are new technologies that make it better for us. I don’t look at it in a negative manner; otherwise I think I might just as well give up.”
Jones has hardly wavered — after at least seven different treatments, various surgeries and frequent chemo-therapy rounds, she takes every day as it comes. She makes lists to keep herself busy and cooks dinner for her siblings who live with her. She sings hymns to herself and breaks out the sewing machine to fix up her sisters’ clothing.
Jones is one of the 12 to 13 percent of women in the United States struck by breast cancer, a statistic that the medical community has combated for years. New technologies that Jones mentioned evolve so quickly that local oncologist Tim Kasunic, M.D., has noted major changes recently.
“Five years ago, every woman with breast cancer greater than 1 centimeter would automatically get chemo therapy,” said Kasunic, who works with the Toledo Clinic. “Now less than 50 percent do.”
The shift has to do with a more personalized approach to cancer treatment. Doctors used to treat cancer as if it were identical in everyone’s bodies, but recent molecular testing technologies have helped doctors see the biological differences in different patients’ cancers.
The testing, a three-year-old technique, determines whether the patients have a high, low or medium risk of reoccurring cancer cells so that the doctor can personalize their treatment plan, Kasunic said.
Since then, doctors have been able to understand why some patients have more aggressive cancers. These types of patients were discovered to have a receptor on their cancer cells called HER2. Scientists created a drug that blocks the receptor called Herceptin.
Now, Kasunic is testing whether adding a newer drug called Tykerb will make treatment more effective.
The new drug is exciting because it is a pill, while Herceptin has to be dosed through IVs every three weeks for a year, he said. That study is one of 14 that the Toledo Community Oncology Program is conducting for breast cancer treatment.
Another major change has affected Kasunic’s work in the past month. A new drug called Halaven hit the market in November, which extends a terminal patient’s life expectancy.
“It could be the difference for a given patient to make it to the next holiday or the next graduation,” said David Cox, director in US Medical Affairs for Eisai Incorporated.
Eisai is the company that introduced Halaven. The design for the drug came from a sea sponge.
Scientists discovered that sponges off the coast of Japan had anti-cancer agents 18 years ago. They developed a synthetic model of the molecule, conducted tests and found that patients who took the drug lived about two and a half months longer than those who took standard medications, Cox said.
Jones said fighting cancer has been just as much psychological as it has been physically straining.
Michelle Cocchiarella is a breast health nurse at Flower Hospital who helps patients through support groups, particularly focusing on survivorship programs. Support groups range from things like educational sessions, to patient-to-patient chats to engaging activities to help others, she said.
“We’re finding more and more that people want to give back and do something for other cancer survivors and patients so we have classes where they make cards and give them to people who are going through treatment,” Cocchiarella said.
Another personal struggle has to do with post-treatment self-esteem. Women often come with questions about how recovering from their illness will affect their sex lives or their personal appearances, she said. Thus, specific programs for skin and hair are offered.