Ferda Martin: Looking Forward to the Future Despite Metastatic Breast Cancer
I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which is a very aggressive disease, in March 2017. As a single mom, all I could think about was, “What will happen to my daughter?” She was just 7½-years-old. In Spring 2020, when I learned that the cancer had metastasized, it felt as if the light at the end of the tunnel was dimming, but treatment with sacituzumab govitecan-hziy (Trodelvy) shrank the tumor dramatically, and I feel so much more optimistic. I am looking forward to seeing my daughter finish middle school, graduate from high school, get her diploma in college, and start a career.
It all started in early 2017. I noticed that my left breast was incredibly sensitive, painful, and swollen. It was causing me so much discomfort that I had trouble sleeping at night on my left side. I made an appointment to see my doctor, but when I arrived, he/she was not available so I met with a nurse practitioner. I was told that I had fibrocystic breasts and not to worry. However, I was in so much pain that I insisted I get a referral for a mammogram.
Unfortunately, I had to wait 30 days for the mammogram. By the time I went for the procedure, the tumor was so large that a surgeon and doctor were called immediately so that they could perform a biopsy. Within days, I met with an oncologist at UCSF to come up with a treatment plan. After a medication I received through a clinical trial for a week or two did nothing to slow the growth of the tumor, I began chemotherapy with carboplatin and paclitaxel. My heart rate plummeted following my third infusion, and I was hospitalized for three days. The tumor was still growing so my oncologist switched me to a different chemotherapy regimen, cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin. This was the most grueling treatment I have received so far.
Once I had completed four cycles of cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin, I had a double mastectomy. During the surgery, they discovered that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes; 17 of 25 lymph nodes that they removed tested positive for cancer. The official diagnosis was stage III triple-negative breast cancer; I was devastated, and began preparing for what would happen to my daughter if I were to die.
The surgery was followed by radiation and more chemotherapy, this time with capecitabine, to keep the cancer from recurring. Capecitabine was challenging. I couldn’t walk more than three blocks without feeling like I was going to have a heart attack, I had heavy perspiration, and night sweats. But overall, I was glad to be alive.
After the capecitabine, I participated in several clinical trials, including one testing an immunotherapy called pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and one testing a therapeutic vaccine, to keep the cancer from recurring. At that time, the cancer was not detectable, and I was able to spend quality time with my daughter. We travelled to so many places, Paris, Istanbul, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, and Half Moon Bay. I am so grateful for the time that we have had together to make memories for her.
In March 2020, the therapeutic vaccine treatment that I had been scheduled to receive was cancelled because the researchers stopped the clinical trial as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. About a month later, I felt a round lump near my collarbone It was the size of a marble and hard as a rock. I immediately made an appointment to see my oncologist. PET scans showed that the cancer had metastasized to three sites: my collarbone area, my right/left side, and my abdomen.
My oncologist recommended I start a treatment that had just been approved by the FDA, sacituzumab govitecan-hziy. After the first infusion at the end of June 2020, I could feel the lump near my collarbone getting smaller. After five infusions I could no longer feel it at all. I will be having a PET scan soon and am hopeful that the results will be good.
I don’t have significant side effects from the sacituzumab govitecan-hziy. I have lost my hair, have dry eyes, and feel a little fatigue some days, but I’m grateful to be alive. Cancer brought me clarity, and I embrace joy and happiness. I continue to make more memories with my daughter, we visit the museums in San Francisco, read books, eat out, and spend time at my family’s blueberry farm in Oregon.
My wish is that nobody ever goes through what I have gone through in my cancer journey, it has been really tough. That is why it is imperative that our government fund cancer research. Cancer research helps people stay alive.