Sunday, January 11, 2015

Testimonial of patient finishing invasive HER2+ breast cancer vaccine trial on Thursday

My name is Barb Sciandra.  I am a 36 year old wife and mother, most importantly.  I am a sister, a daughter, a niece, a friend and neighbor.  Looking at me today, thankfully, you would have no idea what the last 2 and ½ years of my life have been like – that I started chemotherapy treatments one day after my eighth wedding anniversary, during the same week that my oldest child started kindergarten and my middle child started preschool. 
I felt a lump in my left breast at the beginning of my last pregnancy but it was not seen via ultrasound and therefore, went undiagnosed throughout my pregnancy.  I had a difficult time breastfeeding Cameron, my youngest of three children, and I knew that something was not right.  After being very persistent and undergoing many ultrasounds, biopsies, mammograms and MRIs, I heard the 3 words that no one wants to hear.  YOU HAVE CANCER.  A light was finally shed on the issue that had presented itself nine months earlier. I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer on August 17, 2012 at the age of 34, just 3 months after the birth of our third baby and two weeks before I was scheduled to return to work as a retail pharmacist after my maternity leave. 
My left breast was diagnosed as Stage III locally advanced cancer (ER+, PR+, HER2+) and my right breast was diagnosed as Stage II (ER+, PR+, HER2-).    I was as aggressive as possible when it came to treatment because I want to live a full life.  I have too much to live for.  I had a port surgically placed less than a week after my diagnosis and started chemotherapy treatments to shrink the cancer on my left side.  After 5 months of chemo, I underwent a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction at The University of Pennsylvania.  I had an oophorectmy a month later, not because I am BRCA+ - I am actually negative – but another type of genetic blood test called the CYP2D6 enzyme indicated that my body might not be able to metabolize the drug, Tamoxifen, which is the standard of care after chemo for ER+ breast cancer, to its active form.  Next, I underwent radiation treatments for 6 weeks as well as a year’s worth of Herceptin.  Herceptin is an infused drug that is used to treat HER2+ breast cancer.  I currently take an oral medication called Femara because I am considered post menopausal.    
I was extremely fortunate to qualify for a vaccine clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania which will conclude in February.  This vaccine trial is run by Dr. Brian Czerniecki and his team of researchers and is sponsored by the Pennies in Action Fund at Penn.  When I read about this particular research while sitting in Dr. Czerniecki’s waiting room, I knew that I needed to do whatever I had to do to become a part of this.  I am considered at “high risk” for cancer recurrence because my case was so involved and I knew, in my heart, that I would be in trouble if I did not qualify for this vaccine. 
I truly feel as though this vaccine is giving me a second chance at life.  I perceive this vaccine to be something that will aid in affording me many, many more years spent with my husband of ten years, Sal, and my three children – a seven year old daughter named Jameson, a six year old son named Chase and a two year old daughter named Cameron.    
As a young woman and a pharmacist, I have become extremely passionate about Dr. Czerniecki’s research because I believe him as well as his research.  This relatively non-invasive treatment is something that every cancer patient should have the opportunity to receive.  Over the course of the past ten years, Dr. Czerniecki has eradicated as well as prevented cancer recurrence.  His vaccine has not had one case of HER2+ breast cancer recurrence which is just unbelievable.  There are currently no other studies available with these types of results.   
Dr. Brian Czerniecki with the help of Pennies in Action is making cancer history and I am honored and thankful every single day that I am fortunate to be a part of it.  It is imperative that his clinical research efforts are kept moving forward. 

Best Regards,
Barbara A. Sciandra, Pharm.D.

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