What’s In A Number?

Most times when I have an office visit at Dana-Farber (an appointment with the doctor, prior to receiving treatment, on scan-day, etc.) I have blood work done. Before you can receive your cancer treatment, whether it’s a chemotherapy infusion or an oral chemo/medication, you need blood work done. These tests check your white and red blood counts, platelets, liver and kidney functions, and mineral/electrolyte levels.

Oncologists also check tumor markers via blood tests. A tumor marker is a biomarker found in the blood which can be elevated by the presence of one or more cancers.

If the numbers for these tests are not in the normal range, your treatment may be delayed. For instance, if your red counts are very low, you might need a blood transfusion before you can continue treatment. If your white counts are very low, you will have to delay treatment until they rise. If this happens you often need to take Neulasta or Neupogen injections to raise the white counts.

Testing tumor markers intrigue me. Usually, when treatment is working, my tumor markers go down. When treatment stops working, my tumor markers go up, which is confirmed by scans.

My current treatment is a combination of Afinitor and Tamoxifen. I hate the side effects of this combo… but for now the scans show the combo is working. However, the tumor markers tell a different story.

My tumor markers have been very high on this treatment, which worries me. I’m due for scans in early April and am anxiously waiting for the results. My oncologist told me not to worry. The scans tell the whole truth, not the tumors markers.

On the topic of scans…I recently had a follow-up brain MRI to recheck a spot found on a previous MRI. Guess what? No one knows what the heck it is. My radiation oncologist calls it “ambiguous” due to its shape. We are taking a wait and see approach with another MRI in a month.

Oh well, I have learned there is always something when living with metastatic breast cancer. I guess this makes life exciting, but not always in a good way.

13 thoughts on “What’s In A Number?

  1. It is crazy how much the doctors know, have learned and continue to learn about these cancers but scary at the same time of how much is unknown! (I also have metastic breast cancer – triple negative.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m happy to read that your AT treatment is working and hope that you and your team find ways to minimize side effects. I am currently experiencing diffiuclt side effects myself while on Taxol, Herceptin and Perjeta for metatastic BC in the liver. I hear you when you write that there’s always something… One of my mottos is « this too shall pass ».

    On to numbers…Over my previous two BC cancer diagnosis, MDS, bone marrow transplant and now this recent diagnosis, I’ve always managed my concerns by insisting that all my loved ones and myself stick only to the facts, every other stressing piece of information was set aside until validated. This is my way of living in the moment and giving cancer the finger in refusing to empower it! Stay focused, sister, the tumour markers that served you well in the past are no longer of good use to you, ignore them they don’t deserve your energy! Good vibes being sent your way! 💞

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Susan, The roller coaster of this ride is crazy! Just keep your positive outlook, as you always have. Let Dr. M worry about all those numbers, and you keep looking forward:)
    Love you!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I came across your blog and just wanted to say reading it makes me less frightened of what the future might bring. You’re showing your children the meaning of resilience and how to live. I hope I would be able to do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Julie! I’m glad you are less frightened of what the future holds. The unknown can be very frightening, it’s why I don’t sweat the small stuff, and live live to the fullest. I try to get in as many new experiences as possible. As long as I’m living, I’m going to live. All the best to you, Julie ❤️


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