Forgive me if I don’t celebrate the completion of chemo. There is no bell ringing, cheering or cake. My friends are very excited to hear that chemo is over… 5 cycles of cisplatin and gemcitabine. But I’ve been here before.
I’ve finished chemo three times now and while early on I had a faint hope that I would not return to the 6th floor infusion centre, now I believe it’s only a matter of time before I’m back.
And this is a good thing. I believe it’s chemo that’s keeping me alive. It’s the dragon that is beating the tumours into submission. As long as Dr. T signs me up for chemo, it means there is hope for life ahead.
I have a new dragon on my side: I’m heading into a clinical trial which is a new experience for me. It’s a phase 3 trial, which means it’s been tested on people with different cancers and found to be useful. It will be tested on 360 women with ovarian cancer around the world. My dragon’s name is Niraparib. I like it.
The chemotherapy I’ve endured over the last 4 years attacks the cancer cells as well as every other fast-growing cell in my body. That’s why some drugs make our hair fall out or our fingernails. It rots the insides of our mouths and kills the nerves in our hands and feet. Niraparib, like other PARP (poly ADP ribose polymerase) inhibitors, is a new style of drug that targets the cancer cells. It means that instead of attacking our entire body, this new dragon knows where to go.
The dragon interferes with DNA repair within the cancer cell. Angiogenesis prevents the formation of new blood vessels to stop the cancer cell’s growth. It could make a tumour easier to treat, said a cancer researcher at a conference I attended recently. He cited one study using a different PARP inhibitior that gave women 4 months progression-free survival (the tumours didn’t grow in that time). The women didn’t live any longer but the tumours stopped growing. That’s a start.
The goal of this study is to learn if Niraparib can help delay the worsening of ovarian, peritoneal or fallopian cancer among patents who had a good response to previous treatment with a platinum-type chemotherapy drug. Notice that it’s no life saver. It’s no cancer killer. It’s considered a “maintenance” therapy.
What is key is that it’s supposed to give us a much better life than we’d have on chemo. Because of the targeted approach, PARP inhibitors do their work without inflicting massive side effects on patients. It means our quality of life is much higher. And for those of us learning to live with cancer, quality of life is everything.
There are no needles to administer Niraparib. I will take 3 pills every morning at home for the 8 months of the trial. There’s a lot of blood-letting at the lab to see how I’m doing and a CT scan and EKG to make sure my heart is still working.
This trial is a double-blind study which means that for every 3 women in the study, 2 will get Niraparib, and 1 will get a placebo. People have asked if I’m afraid I will get the placebo. Not really. I can leave the trial at anytime. If the CT scans show the tumours in my lungs and liver are growing again, I can leave the trial and go back to the chemo on the 6th floor. It’s worked before.
And finally, I wanted to thank you for your kind words of support and your contributions to The Underwear Affair. The fundraiser for the BC Cancer Foundation was held last weekend and my daughter’s team, The Pirates of the Nether Regions, raised nearly $13,000. The Pirates were the top team again. Over the last four years, they raised $90,000. It goes to research cancers below the waist. Thank you.