Voices of Impact – Kathryn Becker
“If high-dose chemotherapy back in 1997 was an Uzi, mowing down everything in its path, TDM-1 is like a sharpshooter, targeting only the cancer cells.”
“I feel that it is through Komen’s commitment to research that I am still here today, that treatments are becoming more tolerable and that we now know that not all breast cancer cells are alike.”
Imagine my shock: I was 32 years old, a professional woman and competitive sailor, I had just moved to a new state – and I had just received a breast cancer diagnosis.
That was 1997. In March of 1998, I was recovering from my initial breast cancer diagnosis when I saw a commercial for the Komen Race for the Cure®. I called my local Affiliate and said, “I want to volunteer.” I joined a support group and was inspired by the women I met who were five years, 10 years, and even further from diagnosis. I made it my personal mission to finish the Race thinking, “If they can do this, I can do it, too. If I can do this Race, I can beat cancer.” One week from my final chemo treatment, I completed my first Race in Miami and I haven’t looked back since.
I always chuckle when I hear people say, “Poor Kathryn.” They can’t be talking about me! I’ve had some great opportunities in my life. Today, 16 years later, I’m doing fine. I’m ready for my next adventure.
But it was a journey. Back in 1997, I chose to have a single mastectomy of my left breast in the hopes of breast feeding with my right breast in the future. After surgery, I endured high-dose chemotherapy which involved first removing red blood cells and platelets, receiving the chemo and then reintroducing the red blood cells and platelets so I could regain my strength. I also had radiation.
After my initial diagnosis and treatment, I was cancer-free until 2004, when I had my first recurrence. The cancer then spread to several areas including my sternum, ribs, lungs and liver. Then in 2010 I was diagnosed with brain tumors; I was treated twice with cyber knife radiation for the tumors, which are now dormant. I have also taken many combinations of cancer-fighting drugs which my cancer initially responded to, but then returned.
At a young survivor event, I heard Komen Co-chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. Eric Winer, discuss a new drug called TDM-1. I felt really excited about the possibility of TDM-1, which delivers toxic levels of chemotherapy directly to the cancer cells while sparing healthy cells, resulting in far fewer side effects. If high-dose chemotherapy back in 1997 was an Uzi, mowing down everything in its path, TDM-1 is like a sharpshooter, targeting only the cancer cells.
In 2010, TDM-1 was not available for me to try because it was still being studied through clinical trials. I pushed for the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial and was treated with TDM-1 from October 2010 through February 2012. Many women on the trial were going into remission, and the treatment worked very well for me, too. It gave me hope to meet all of the women on the trial with me and watch them go into remission – it was so exciting! It felt like we were really making breakthroughs in research and treatment!!
After many years of research from scientists like Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, a Komen Scholar and professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center, and the participation of people like me, TDM-1 was approved by the FDA in February, 2013 under the trade name of Kadcyla and is now available to available to other people with HER2-positive (HER2+), metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
In January 2012, I volunteered to participate in the Susan G. Komen Metastatic Roundtable. I continue serving on this committee, volunteering at my local Affiliate and sharing my story, which was featured in the American Association of Cancer Research’s Annual Progress Report in 2012.
Despite years of treatments and strange side effects, including losing my peripheral vision and the insertion of glass tubes into my tear ducts to prevent them from closing up, I enthusiastically count my blessings. I am thankful for the employer who supported me through my initial treatment, for the treatments that have kept my cancer at bay and for the continued ability to work and play. I am also thankful for the individuals who have touched me along the journey. From the doctor who made sure his staff scheduled my mammogram, to the radiology tech who gave me the name of her surgeon, it is amazing the support you receive from those that you least expect. When I was in the hospital, the CEO of my company and his wife came to visit every day. So many co-workers and church friends descended on the hospital that the nurses put up signs on my door limiting the number of visitors who could enter. And of course, my family flew in from Arizona and Kansas to be by my side.
I feel so thankful that Komen has the vision and mission to eradicate breast cancer. I feel that it is through Komen’s commitment to research that I am still here today, that treatments are becoming more tolerable and that we now know that not all breast cancer cells are alike.
About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.