Stories of hope
In October 2014, Jackie, 68, rolled over in bed and felt a horrible pain in her right breast. That pain prompted her to do a self-exam, and she felt a lump.
A subsequent mammogram revealed a large lump in her right breast and two smaller ones. Her diagnosis was triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). Jackie’s oncologist explained they were going to “melt the tumors like ice cream” and prescribed a treatment regimen of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and radiation. Jackie was finished with treatment in July of 2015, and she believed she was done with cancer forever.
Two short years later, to nearly the day, Jackie rolled over in her bed to experience the exact pain, in the same spot, as she had in 2015. Her triple negative breast cancer was back and she was devastated. Treatment began again, but this time the tumors were stubborn. Even surgery to remove all breast tissue and lymph nodes was unsuccessful at keeping new tumors at bay. A body scan at the end of 2018 revealed that Jackie’s triple negative breast cancer had spread to her liver.
It was then that Jackie and her husband Phil Krause traveled to Indianapolis to learn about the “Whac-A-Mole” study, a new two-drug approach to treating triple negative breast cancer inspired by the arcade game of the same name. In the game, a player attempts to whack at a mole as it appears, finding success by predicting where it will arise next. The concept had been developed in the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research by a research team led Milan Radovich, PhD. Radovich had scoured the TNBC genome and identified two highly active genes that seemed to drive the cancer. He also noted that suppressing the first gene, made the second gene even more active. He matched each gene to new drugs and began testing to determine how effective they would be at killing TNBC cells in the laboratory. The data he developed allowed Kathy Miller, MD, to design the clinical trial to test this new combination therapy with TNBC patients who had relapsed.
Jackie gratefully took the last place open in the trial and has responded beautifully to the experimental protocol. Six weeks into the trial, she experienced 52% tumor shrinkage, and a second set of scans revealed further improvement.
Jackie continues treatment, and research continues in the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research. While not cured, Jackie knows that her next targeted therapy is already being developed.—IU School of Medicine