Monday, August 26, 2013

Changing Paths

Old paths are such comforts.  Losing them feels like losing the coziness of an old friendship.

Today we took a new path through the woods and got a bit lost.  The familiar markers were gone and their comfort and clarity gone with them. That’s often the way with forging a trail—you get easily disoriented.  But it is a bit more so for us right now.

The woods we walk through by our little Colorado cabin have been engulfed in a forest fire and are now just charred fields with black skeletal trees poking up from an ash floor.

So we don't actually need a path any more because all the old obstacles are gone, the gorgeous pine trees and aspen groves are burned.  We can walk pretty much where we want,  although what we want is for this fire to never have happened.  I didn't want this change, I didn't want this blasted new path. I want things the way they were.

My path through cancer was similar.  The old ways of doing things—enjoying my martinis and wine, eating fatty foods, taking exercise only sort of seriously, working too hard and taking on too much stress—had to be replaced by a healthier, cancer-fighting life. I am so much the better for it, but forging that new post-diagnosis trail was the pits.  And I resent having to do it.

I did visualization exercises as part of my cancer treatment, and the tree-lined path to our cabin is what usually came to my mind when I tried to envision beauty and hope, a place in the future where I could see myself after the chemo and radiation and endless doctor visits and tests were over. Visualization can be potent, getting you out of your current ordeal and helping you see that there can be life and fulfillment after all this.

Still, I have often wondered why I saw this simple, non-spectacular cabin path.  Why not the dramatic mountain just beyond it?  Or the verdant meadow with its little stream?  Or even the cabin itself, with its cozy, friendly interior?  Why the path?

I think it was because the calm that engulfs me at the cabin starts on that path, making the path itself a symbol of better things to come, of hope.  I always feel so positive on that path—I know it ends in comfort.

This year, though, a portion of that path is burned, some of the trees just black sticks, the ground a mixture of ash and charcoal. The cabin itself is fine—thanks to God and the firefighters. But much of our nearby forest is gone, and the paths that once snaked through the woods are just vague marks in the ashy ground. 

Still, more often than not, we look for those old trails and follow them as much as we can.

I think it’s because the paths are our link to life before the fire, our tie to normalcy.  If we stay on the path that gets us up the hill and over to the next meadow, maybe we can forget the destruction around us, the sad state of our forest.  A little part of things will be like they were before.

Same way with cancer—the old familiar faith in our health, security about our future, and clarity about our present is gone, replaced with a vague route through an unfamiliar and frightening landscape.  I retired from a job I loved because too much of it had turned to stress and worry and because I knew I would be too busy to exercise and eat well. 

People remind me that the forest will grow back and will likely be even better than before.   They are right, of course, but it’s hard to see right now.  And, more than seven years after my cancer diagnosis, I know that my overall health is better than it would have been had I not had that health scare.  I feel obliged to treat my body better.  And the new life I have forged, with a mixture of the old and new, is pretty amazing—I feel challenged by the writing and part-time teaching I do, but I can now relax and plan my days the way I want them.  And the world is full of people like me who have survived to live a strong and happy life that, in many ways, is better than before.

Yet I have lost so many friends to this disease, and I feel their presence and their absence as I walk on.  I think of the spouses, children, and siblings who have been left behind.   My heart especially breaks for parents who have lost their daughters and little children who have lost their mommies. Their lives have been altered beyond comprehension, and I hope we can all lend a hand to them, helping them find their way onto a new path of love, one that honors the beauty of our memories and the hope of the future.

[Read more about the forest fire here.]

Monday, August 19, 2013

Biological pathway offers less-toxic treatment potential for some cases of TNBC

The OGF-OGFr axis, a novel biological pathway, can be modulated in human triple-negative breast cancer cells to inhibit proliferation, according to research in the June 2013 issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine. 

Exposure of human breast cancer cell lines to OGF in lab tests repressed growth within 24 hours. (That's fast, folks.) Treatment with low dosages of the opioid antagonist naltrexone (LDN) boosted OGF with minimal or no side effects, with potentially stronger effects than paclitaxel.

"What is exciting about our findings," said Ian S. Zagon, M.D., senior author and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, "is that women with triple-negative breast cancer have few options because their tumors lack the necessary hormonal receptors. [Pat's note:  I would say "different options" rather than "fewer."]

Data from these studies open new doors for treatment of this population of women." Moreover, the OGF-OGFr axis is present in all types of breast cancer cells suggesting that this pathway provides additional avenues for treatment of this commonly diagnosed cancer.

Existing drugs kill TNBC drugs by targeting their own waste

Triple-negative breast cancers may be vulnerable to drugs that attack the proteasome, a cellular structure that acts as the cell's waste disposal, breaking down damaged or unneeded proteins, according to a new paper in Cancer Cell.

In lab tests, researchers selectively "turned off" genes throughout the genomes of triple-negative tumor cells. When turned off, the cells die.

These data suggest that triple-negative breast cancers may respond to treatment with drugs similar to bortezomib (Velcade), which is used in multiple myeloma.

• Read more about TNBC in my book, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.

• Please consider a donation to Positives About Negative to keep this site going.  This work is entirely supported by readers.  Just click on the Donate button in the right of the page.  Thank you!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Enzyme UBASH3B Linked to TNBC Progression and Growth

Scientists at  the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) have identified genes that are potential targets for therapeutic drugs against triple-negative breast cancer. These findings were reported in the July 2013 issue of PNAS.

In the research, they discovered that an enzyme, UBASH3B, was overexpressed in one third of TNBC patients. Deleting this gene expression inhibits TNBC growth and lung metastasis in a mouse model. They also showed that TNBC patients with high levels of UBASH3B tend to be more likely to have early recurrence and metastasis.

Lead author Dr Qiang Yu said, “It is heartening to know that UBASH3B is an important element of the pro-invasive gene network and targeting UBASH3B not only inhibits TNBC invasive growth, but also significantly reduces metastasis.”

Tan Tock Seng Hospital consultant surgeon Dr Tan Ern Yu, a collaborator and co-author of the study said, “Some TNBC patients relapse soon after standard treatment while others remain free of disease for a long time. Being able to predict which patients are more likely to relapse is important since these patients may benefit from more aggressive treatments. But currently, doctors are unable to reliably do so. Further validation will show whether UBASH3B can be developed into a means of identifying these high-risk patients as well as a new form of treatment.”

Dr Dave Hoon, Director, Department Molecular Oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute, USA, and co-author said, “Recent large-scale genomic analysis of breast cancer show that triple negative breast cancer are highly heterogeneous and patients tumors can have different molecular profiles.  The finding can help us develop new approaches for targeted therapy for this highly aggressive breast cancer.”

The original news release is here.

• Read more about TNBC in my book, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.

• Please consider a donation to Positives About Negative to keep this site going.  This work is entirely supported by readers.  Just click on the Donate button in the right of the page.  Thank you!