About 10 days ago, I had an Ommaya Reservoir, installed in my brain. Compared to my other brain surgeries it was a walk in the park but I'm still dealing with all kinds of fallout from the anesthetic, pain and healing. I had my staples out yesterday, though, so the end of the tunnel must be in sight (although my head hurts as I type this).
|You can see my incision and the staples here. It's in a semi-circle at the front, slightly to the right.|
The good news is that we have decided to try something that is still pretty experimental: injecting Herceptin (also called trastuzumab, to which I have been a super responder. I have been on the drug for 9.5 years and since since going into remission, have no detectable cancer below the neck) directly into my brain, thus getting past the issue of the blood-brain barrier. This is known as Intrathecal (or IT) Herceptin. There is currently a trial happening in Montreal (and a resident who works on it was just in Ottawa, working with my oncologist) and there are stories of people going through the process in the Western US. I will be the first in Ottawa. I'm told that everyone in the hospital is very excited.
By artwork by Patrick J. Lynch, Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck - own work, the brain is taken from Image:Skull_and_brain_sagittal.svg made by Patrick L. Lynch. Made with InkScape., Public Domain,
IT trastuzumab was effective in targeting extramedullary (LM) metastases. This resulted in the prolonged survival of our patient for 46 months, compared to a median life expectancy of 3–4 months for breast cancer patients following the diagnosis of LM without treatment . Given that IV trastuzumab does not cross the blood–brain barrier or blood CSF barrier, IT trastuzumab offers a direct approach to the leptomeninges. (from: "Intrathecal trastuzumab: immunotherapy improves the prognosis of leptomeningeal metastases in HER-2+ breast cancer patient", US National Library of Medicine)
The decision to go this route is the first time I have felt hopeful in a while. My oncologist is nervous about side effects and finding the right dose. I had a very intense reaction to Herceptin when I started and because this kind of treament is still experimental there are potentially some very serious side effects (even death). There is also little clarity as to what dose would be both safe and effective.
Anecdotally, and in trials in Montreal (and elsewhere) the response has been very positive, over all. I'm glad my oncologist has been convinced to give it a go. Additionally, my latest MRI has revealed that the three tumours in the brain lining are all stable, so we are feeling less urgency. This is also good news, although I am keen to get started.