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A decade of cancer, without remission
North Van resident Yumi White has been living with stage four breast cancer for a decade.
She has never had chemotherapy; her oncologist opted to treat her cancer with hormone therapy instead.
White didn’t question him. She’d been given a year to live and living with the debilitating effects of chemotherapy was not an option.
“[Hormone therapy] was the right decision for me because I’m still here,” says the graphic designer.
It was her husband Greg who found the lumps in her breasts. There was no other indication that she was battling an internal disease.
White promptly went to her family doctor who ordered a biopsy. In the radiologist’s office, where her cancer diagnosis was confirmed, she says she was killed mentally.
“That was the day I didn’t know where I was or who I was,” recalls White of that ominous, cold day in May.
Cancer aside, physically she was not shaken. White had always considered herself a couch potato but post-diagnosis she started running, dragon boating and doing the Grouse Grind, which is challenging enough for people in optimal health.
Two years later, she learned the cancer had metastasized into her lungs. In the same breath, White’s oncologist diagnosed with her with unrelated cervical cancer.
The cancer has continued to spread over the years, most recently to her bones, but it’s manageable with radiation and hormone therapy.
“So it is still kind of happening, but maybe [the cancer] grows very slowly in my case or the [hormone therapy] helps slow down the progression,” figures White.
An annual participant in The Weekend to End Breast Cancer, White’s team, Livestrong, has raised $250,000 over six years for breast cancer research.
The money supports ground-breaking research at the BC Cancer Agency where scientists recently found a significant connection between a natural enzyme — CA9 — and the life-threatening spread of breast cancer.
These scientists have collaborated with a medicinal chemistry group in Florence, Italy, where they developed two drugs that block the function of CA9.
Preparing the drugs for clinic-based testing will requires 18-24 months of toxicology testing before they could potentially be introduced in a phase- one clinical trial.
White was 38 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has lost two close friends who succumbed to the disease but she remains positive.
“Doctors were treating women [with breast cancer] in the same way, with the same medication 10 years ago,” says White. “I’m always interested in hearing about new [research] discoveries.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates 23,000 women in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,000 women will die from the disease in 2011. For more info, visit www.cancer.ca/british columbia-yukon.aspx.