We met with Dr H. on Tuesday to go over the results of the PET scan and brain MRI in person. Again, all clear! There was some minor uptake around the area of the original tumor in the left breast, but that is most likely cells actively healing the site of the lumpectomy. Nothing to worry about but something we will keep an eye on of course.
Next up is radiation therapy. Studies have proven that radiation significantly decreases the odds of re-occurrence. If the original chemo was the cake and secondary chemo was the frosting, then the radiation is the sprinkles. Who likes cake without sprinkles anyways? The radiation regimen consists of targeting the lymph nodes as well as the site of the original tumor. It is administered 5 days a week for 6 1/2 weeks. That's about 33 half-hour visits to the radio-oncologist over the next month and a half. Luckily, Texas Oncology has an office only minutes from home so the commute won't be too bad (we used their downtown office for chemo as that is where Dr H. has her practice). I suspect I'll have a battle with the insurance on this one. Our insurance considers radiation therapy a 'procedure', which has a $0 copay whereas the provider considers it an 'office visit', which has a $15. $15 isn't bad at all, but when you have 33 visits, $15 x 33 = $465, and that's easily worth a trip to Vegas for the weekend. Does anyone out there have a similar experience with radiation, insurance companies, and co-pays?
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", or so goes Dr H's aggressive treatment philosophy. Instead of straight-up radiation, Linda will be concurrently taking a very low dose of Xeloda (a chemotherapy) during radiation. This chemo (hopefully side-effect free) will extra-sensitize the targeted cells. Radiation typically damages the DNA of a cell during cell division. Cells are 'programmed' to kill themselves if the DNA is damaged during mitosis. That is natures mechanism to prevent unwanted cell mutation. There is only a very specific window during cell division when the radiation particle can damage the DNA. The role of Xeloda during radiation is to extend that window so there is more opportunity for the radiation particles to do their dirty work. At least this is my understanding from a 15 minute discussion with Dr H. The Xeloda is taken in pill form the day of the treatment so there are no more infusions, and if the Xeloda has undesired side-effects, Linda can simply stop taking it and continue on with radiation therapy as usual.
More good news...Linda is scheduled to have her 'port' removed next week. It is not a big operation but it is surely a nice milestone to achieve. It's been a long time coming!