**WARNING** Graphic details about side effects: My First Twelve Days on iBrance

A quick disclaimer, please remember that the subject matter in this blog post is specific to my experience while taking iBrance for Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. If you are about to start or take the same medication, your experience may differ from mine, so please keep that in mind.

Information about possible side effects: Nauseavomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, tiredness, weaknesshair lossmouth sores, or numbness/tingling of arms/legs may occur. If any of these effects persist or worsen, tell your doctor or pharmacist promptly.

People using this medication may have serious side effects. However, you have been prescribed this drug because your doctor has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects. Careful monitoring by your doctor may decrease your risk.

Tell your doctor right away if you have any serious side effects, including: signs of anemia (such as unusual tiredness, pale skin, fast heartbeat), easy bruising/bleeding (such as nosebleed), signs of lung problems (such as chest pain, shortness of breath).

This medication may lower your ability to fight infections. This may make you more likely to get a serious infection or make any infection you have worse. Tell your doctor right away if you have any signs of infection (such as fever, chills, persistent sore throatcough).

A very serious allergic reaction to this drug is rare. However, get medical help right away if you notice any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including: rashitching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizzinesstrouble breathing. This is not a complete list of possible side effects. If you notice other effects not listed above, contact your doctor or pharmacist.

My first seven days, March 28th – April 3rd, on iBrance were fine; no significant changes in how I felt. Unfortunately, I am not a stranger to chemo treatments, so I knew that it was a matter of time before I began to deal with possible side effects as the medication builds up in my body.

On day 8, I started having waves of nausea all day with diarrhea after every meal, and that evening, I started having abdominal pain and cold sweats while in the bathroom. I made sure to keep my water intake up as suggested by my pharmacist, which is 2 to 3 quarts a day, but it didn’t help much.

Day 9 was about the same but with less abdominal pain. I began to get scared to eat because I would feel better initially, only to feel worse about 20 minutes after eating.  I started to have other side effects combined with those I already had, like tingling in my hand and losing my appetite.

On day 10, I woke up with diarrhea, but it only happened once, and then I had the opposite problem the rest of the day, constipation. I am still nauseous on and off all day, and my appetite is non-existent, but I hope that I will improve in the coming days as my system continues to adjust to the medication. I am eating, but sometimes I need to force myself because I know I need to eat to stay healthy. I am losing weight but not so much that I am concerned since I am still about 20 lbs overweight.

On days 11 and 12, I have felt much better. The tingling in my hand has stopped, but I am still dealing with nausea on and off; it is nowhere near as severe as the past three days, so that is an improvement. My appetite is slightly better, so eating hasn’t been as much of a struggle. Hopefully, I am turning a corner, and next week, my third week on the drug will be much easier. I am worried about having a week off, starting on the 18th and then starting back up again, but I am trying to remain optimistic that it will be OK.

My upcoming appointment at my oncologist’s office is Monday, when I go in for round two of my Faslodex injections. I am not scheduled to see him so I will discuss the side effects with my nurse, and if she feels it’s necessary, I can ask to talk to my oncologist. Overall, I am doing OK, considering that I am dealing with more side effects with this medication than I ever did while going through infusion chemotherapy.

6 Overlooked Signs of Breast Cancer

Over the last few years, and again now that my cancer has returned, many people have asked me if I had any signs of breast cancer before I found the first tumor in my breast. Yes, I did have a few of these signs, and I had pain. Please, remember to do your monthly breast self-exam and watch for these signs.

Medically reviewed by Amy Tiersten, MD — Written by Jennifer Bringle on October 5, 2020

Everyone talks about the importance of catching breast lumps as early as possible. But did you know there’s a host of lesser known breast cancer symptoms that might not show up on a self-exam or mammogram?

According to the American Cancer Society (ACA), breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, other than skin cancers, and it’s the second-most deadly cancer for women behind lung cancer.

On average, there’s about a 1 in 8 chance that a U.S. woman will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. The ACA estimates that more than 40,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2020.

The most common form of breast cancer is invasive breast cancer, which is any type that has invaded the breast tissue.

Less common forms include inflammatory breast cancer (which is caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin, causing the breast to look inflamed) and Paget’s disease, which involves the skin of the nipple or areola.

With the high rates of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends women have the choice to start annual mammograms at age 40. The organization says women between the ages of 45 and 54 should get mammograms every year.

And while the disease is most commonly discovered by detecting a lump during a mammogram, there are other lesser known signs and symptoms of breast cancer that women should look out for.

Nipple discharge

Unusual discharge from the nipple can be an indicator that something is wrong in the breast.

According to Marisa Weiss, MD, breast oncologist and founder of BreastCancer.org, discharge that’s bloody or pink and generally only on one side can possibly indicate the presence of cancer in the breast tissue, particularly if it’s persistent.

Skin changes

Skin changes are actually one of the most common lesser known signs of breast cancer.

“Thickness or redness of the skin, along with a little puffiness like the skin of an orange is a sign,” says Weiss. “You see dimpling where the hair follicles are, like a navel orange.”

Skin differences like thickening, dimpling, and changes in color can indicate the presence of inflammatory breast cancer.

Nipple crust

Redness, scaling, crusting, or flaking of the nipple or areola can be a sign of Paget’s disease, which can be an early indication of breast cancer.

The skin changes on the nipples often look like more benign conditions like psoriasis or eczema, but don’t respond to traditional treatments for those issues and instead worsen.

New shape or increase in breast size

An enlarged breast — particularly if the swelling is isolated to one breast — or a change in the shape of the breast, can indicate issues within the tissue.

“An unusual shape where the contour is distorted and there’s a bulge in one part of the breast can be a sign of cancer,” says Weiss.

“It could feel like a lump, but it could also just be a region of the breast that feels firmer, and you can’t really feel a lump within it,” she says. “It also often becomes more pronounced when moving in different positions.”

Inverted nipple

A nipple that looks flat or inverted, as well as a nipple that points in a different direction than it once did, can be a sign of breast cancer.

“Instead of pointing straight outward or downward, it no longer looks in the same direction, but in a different spot,” says Weiss.

A flat or inverted nipple is another sign of Paget’s disease.

Red or hot spots

Red or hot spots on the breast, sometimes covering the entire breast, can be an indicator of inflammatory breast cancer.

While red or hot spots can also indicate mastitis — inflammation of breast tissue due to infection, most often experienced during lactation — mastitis symptoms are usually accompanied by fever.

Red or hot spots without fever that persist and don’t improve can mean breast cancer is present.

The takeaway

Weiss says it’s important to remember that these signs and symptoms can indicate other benign issues that aren’t breast cancer, but it’s critical to monitor the symptoms and act if they don’t subside.

And for those who’ve already had breast cancer, it can be even more difficult to discern the innocuous from the malignant. In that case, Weiss says it’s particularly crucial to monitor changes in the breasts and alert your doctor when something doesn’t look or feel right.

“You’re always worried about recurrence of a new problem, so the ability to recognize the less common symptoms and signs may be a little trickier,” she says.

It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between leftover scar tissue from your prior breast cancer. And if you’ve had mastectomy and reconstruction, you could have lumps and bumps in there that are due to scar tissue from all the healing where they removed and recreated your breast, says Weiss.

No matter what, Weiss advises women to pay attention to their bodies and maintain regular self-exams and mammograms. And should they notice something out of the ordinary? Let their doctor know.

Jennifer Bringle has written for Glamour, Good Housekeeping, and Parents, among other outlets. She’s working on a memoir about her post-cancer experience.

Oncology Appointment & First Injections

I went to see my oncologist today. First, some good news, my blood panel was completely normal today, with no low or high levels on anything! Today was the first time I have had my blood look this healthy in 3 years. Of course, now, that will change somewhat with the meds that I started today. We discussed both meds that I started today, and I asked him a few questions that we thought of after my last visit. So, this is what we discussed and the questions he answered.

The Faslodex is given in two injections because it is a lot of medicine, 500 mg. The drug is very thick, so they must warm it before injecting it. It is administered intramuscularly into the buttocks (gluteal area) slowly (1 -2 minutes per injection) as two 5 mL injections, one in each buttock, on Days 1, 15, 29, and once monthly. Today was day one, so my next three appointments are on April 11th, April 25th, and May 23rd.

My dose of iBrance is a 125 mg capsule taken orally once daily for 21 consecutive days, followed by 7 days off treatment to comprise a complete cycle of 28 days. It is highly important that my doctor keeps an eye on my white blood cell count because this medication can drop my levels to too low, just like infusion chemo did. If my white blood cell count drops too much, he will lower my dose to 100 mg or 75 mg if necessary. 

I will have a PET scan every three months to check the progress of the meds on my tumors. If the meds shrink the tumors, we will keep my meds the same. If the tumors are growing, we will change my meds and try something else. The goal is for the tumors to disappear or shrink and then stay that way; at that point, my cancer will be controlled, and I will be in remission.

My questions: How long will I be on these meds? I will be on both meds as long as they are working, indefinitely.

Do I need to do anything special while on these meds? I need to drink 2 to 3 quarts of water every day, get plenty of rest, stay away from large crowds or people with colds because I will be at risk of infection, wash my hands often, and something new this time; I can’t eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice.

There are, of course, side effects, as with any medication. So far, I have had a headache tonight, but nothing that Tylenol couldn’t knock out. I had some discomfort from the injections for a few hours after getting them, but that has stopped.

I will let you know how I am doing as I go through my next few appointments.

Oncologist Appointment & 2nd Biopsy Results

My husband and I went to see my oncologist on Tuesday to get the biopsy results on my rib. He told us that the results were positive, that there are several cells of cancer located on my rib, and that the mass as a whole is 2.9cm and is located about 1 inch from my spine. I do not have bone cancer; the cancer is not inside my rib. I had absolutely no idea that it was there until a “spot” showed up both on the nuclear bone scan and the PET scan, hence getting the biopsy last week. The cancer cells are similar to the cancer I had before, so it is the same type, breast cancer, so I am diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. It is metastatic breast cancer because my originating cancer was breast cancer, and it has now spread from the breast to another part of my body.

Once the biopsy results were in, my oncologist and my radiation oncologist spoke and determined that putting me through radiation would not only be challenging to treat but also a waste of time. It is difficult to treat me because I have cancer in two very different areas of my body, my neck, and back. They decided it would be a waste of time because they are convinced that I most likely have cancer elsewhere in my body that is too small to show up in scans. So they decided that we should treat my entire body instead of just the areas where we know I have cancer. Surgery is not an option because there is no point in opening me up when I most likely have cancer elsewhere. Plus, surgery in both areas is quite risky due to major blood vessels, arteries, and the spot on my rib being so close to my spine. So with all of those facts in place, I will be starting medication on Monday.

Stage 4 cancer has no cure. As odd as it sounds, I am lucky that we are dealing with breast cancer because there are many drug choices for treatment, and the medical world is always coming out with new and improved drugs. Why is that? Because breast cancer is the leading cancer in the US, with over 2.26 million cases per year, followed very closely by lung cancer at 2.21 million cases per year. Stage 4 breast cancer ads constantly barrage us on TV, and that is why. Not all stage 4 metastatic breast cancer meds are chemotherapy drugs, but I will be on a chemotherapy drug called iBrance. No, I will not lose my hair while on iBrance, even though it is chemotherapy which I am very thankful for. What is sad about iBrance is that it is $18,000 a month; no one can afford that, so thankfully, there is an aid to apply for to get it free for a year. I will also have a new inhibitor in an injection called Faslodex. These two medications are often paired together with favorable results in killing cancer, keeping it from coming back, and extending life.

It is hoped that iBrance being chemotherapy will kill the cancer in my body, and Faslodex with replace the current inhibitor that I am taking, which is Anastrozole because it didn’t work. The Anastrozole might have kept my cancer from spreading and growing more, but it did not keep cancer from coming back by lowering the estrogen in my system, which is its primary job. I have estrogen-driven breast cancer, so I have to take an inhibitor. I took Anastrozole for two years out of 10 before my cancer returned. My treatment plan is as follows…I will be taking iBrance for 21 days, and then I will stop taking it for seven days, then that cycle will repeat. On Monday, I will start my Faslodex injections, with the first three injections being one injection every two weeks and then once a month after that. In about three months, I will have a PET scan to see if there is any change in the size of my tumors. If the medications are working, my tumors should be smaller; if there is no change, my medication will most likely be changed. If my tumors are persistent, I may have to undergo infusion chemotherapy again, but we will try to avoid that. I don’t have any details about how long I will be on the medications, but I suspect it will be at the very least until having a clear PET scan; but I will find out for sure when I see my oncologist on Monday.

I will post again when I have more information about the length of my treatment and how my first injection appointment went. Take care, everyone!

CT Guided Biopsy

A few days ago, I had a CT Guided Biopsy of my 8th rib on the left side, on my back. Everything went well; I am in a little bit of pain, but nothing that Tylenol can’t help. The doctor instructed me to rest for the rest of the day on Thursday, remove my bandage on Friday, and resume my normal activities.

After finishing my paperwork in the hospital registration office, I went to the lab to have my blood drawn for a few panels; among a few other things, they had to check my kidney function before doing the CT, and after that, I went to radiology to wait to be taken to the pre-op area.

Once my nurse was done prepping me for my procedure, my anesthesiologist came to get me and take me to the CT room. He explained that he would only give me enough medication to make me relaxed and a little sleepy but not entirely out. He said that if I did get sleepy not fight it and let myself fall asleep. I did fall asleep for some of the procedure, but I don’t think it was for very long because the process only took about 30 minutes.

When I walked into the CT room, they had me lay on my stomach on the CT table. I was shocked to find out that the lesion is actually on my 8th rib on the left side of my back, not in the front, and it is very close to my spine, so that has me a bit concerned. The rib that I fractured some 18 years ago, that I was thinking was what was showing up in my scans, was a few ribs down from where the lesion is located, so it has nothing to do with the lesion at all. So with that said, I don’t know what to expect when I meet with my oncologist next Tuesday to get my biopsy results.

I have had many people ask me what I think of all of this, how I am feeling, and what my gut is telling me. I can’t help but see the similarities to the first time I went through cancer three years ago. With every appointment, things get worse and worse, more scans, more biopsies, etc. As before, I want to know what type of cancer I have to fight against, and I want to get started on whatever treatment plan my doctors and I agree on as soon as possible so I can get this over with and move on.

I am feeling OK so far. Even if the lesion on my rib is positive for cancer, it appears to be localized like the tumors in my neck, so it is not as aggressive as it was in 2019, and because of that, I have been feeling much better physically this time around so far. Mentally I am up and down; the stress is unreal because this is the moment as a cancer survivor that I have been fearful of, having to deal with recurrence.

Lastly, what is my gut telling me? I will be shocked if the lesion on my rib is negative for cancer. After reading the PET scan report and looking up a few medical terms that I had not seen before, I immediately thought that it would be a bad result once the biopsy results came in. I, of course, hope that I am wrong, and in a few days, I will know for sure.

Oncologist Appointment & PET Scan Results

I met with my oncologist this past Tuesday to discuss the results of my PET Scan. I was shocked to hear that I have two tumors in my neck, not just one. I found them early, so they are small, 0.9 x 0.5 cm and 0.5 x 0.5 cm. So small, under 1 cm, that they usually wouldn’t have done a biopsy on them, but I had already gone to my surgeon to have the initial ultrasound and biopsy done and had received the results already. I am happy that I took that initiative and went to see my surgeon as soon as I found the tumors so that I found out sooner rather than later that my cancer had returned.

The spot on my rib is still causing concern; it has been determined that it is a lesion that was not on my previous PET Scan in 4/2019. So with the fact that it was not on the last PET Scan and the combination of findings from the recent PET Scan, they are concerned that it is a solitary bone metastasis. My oncologist ended up ordering a biopsy of my rib after our discussion. So next Thursday, I am going to the hospital to have a biopsy of the lesion done. I will have both a local drug and anesthesia for the procedure. The procedure will take about an hour, and I will be in recovery for about 2 hours as they want to keep a close eye on me for bleeding and excessive pain. Unfortunately, I have to go through this biopsy to know if the lesion is cancer or not because it could change my treatment plan if it is positive for cancer, and I then have two different locations on my body with cancer.

Because I am having the biopsy done this coming week, I cannot continue planning with my radiation oncologist at this time. It is good that she now has the images she needed to determine my scope of treatment and if it is possible to treat the tumors in my neck, but the biopsy results could change everything. The lesion on my rib is on my 8th rib, right under my left breast, so as far as I know, it is located in the previous scope of treatment done in 2019/2020.

So my oncologist and I discussed what would happen if I couldn’t have radiation treatment. As far as my neck is concerned, he doesn’t want me to have to undergo surgery, but it is a possibility that I may have to go that route. When it comes to my rib, he didn’t want to speculate on it much. I asked him if it is common for there to be one tumor in one location when it comes to bone cancer, and he said it is unusual but not impossible.

Yesterday my husband remembered that I had pain in my rib several months ago. While we were discussing it, I remembered that I mentioned it to my surgeon when I saw him for a follow-up appointment in September. I pointed to the location of the pain and told him that I felt a bump there as well. When he felt the spot that was hurting me, he said, “that is your rib,” and I told him that I didn’t realize it was my rib because I had never been able to feel my rib so easily when I weighed much more than I do now. He asked if I remembered bumping into something or hurting it somehow, and I couldn’t recall doing anything like that. So I felt it yesterday, and when I pressed on it, it still hurt, and the bump was slightly more significant. So now that I remember that conversation with my surgeon, I am very anxious to get the biopsy done and meet with my oncologist to discuss the results and what will happen next.

I know this might not be common, but it seems that my body will cause me random pain, and then I find a tumor one to two weeks later. It has happened to me three times in a row, so I can say without a doubt that I will never, ever ignore any pain I might have in the future, especially if it is around my bones. My experiences are listed below; I don’t believe that this is a coincidence anymore.

Pain in my lower neck, to shoulder, to the shoulder blade = breast cancer

Pain from my outer ear, up the side of my head, to the top of my head = breast cancer in the lymph nodes in my neck

Pain in the 8th rib under my breast = most likely more cancer, not sure of the type due to location

I will update again next Thursday, depending on how much pain I am in, or Friday about my biopsy. Thank you for being here!

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