Checked in officially this morning for the conference and was pleasantly surprised that the physical book of information about the conference was included. Yes, I’m sure I’m dating myself and the ap does have a lot of great features, but I really do enjoy having something in my hands to hold and write on. There is just so much to do and see and learn that it’s often hard to narrow down my focus.
The first substantive session of the day was a Project LEAD continuing education session on Her2 low. Some of you may remember that I was supposed to attend Project LEAD, a science course for advocates, this past summer, but had to defer that attendance to 2023. After having listened to Dr. Nicholas McAndrew this morning, I’m even more excited to go. He was able to explain Her2 low with the aid of some very creative cartoons that made it so much more clear. As of my latest biopsy, it appears that the cancer in my body expresses Her2 slightly more than 0 so that means a medication focused on Her2 low may be a possibility for me in the future.
Her2 stands for “human epidermal growth factor receptor 2” and is a gene that makes a protein found on the surface of all breast cells — not breast cancer cells, breast cells — and is involved in normal cell growth. What we typically refer to as “Her2-” when describing subtypes, is a feature in breast cancer that is actually the normal status of this gene. When the gene it is amplified or overexpressed (a/k/a Her2+), the ligands on the cells actually start to connect to one another (a/k/a homodimerization) and the cancer grows like crazy. Her2 low is a new way of noting that some of us have more Her2 expression that “normal” but yet aren’t quite as over expressed as Her2+.
The medications targeting Her2 (for example, Enhertu) utilize the Her2 ligands (think little squiggly worms protruding from a cell) to enter a cell and deliver chemotherapy right into the actual cancer cell. This way of targeting the unwanted cancer cells has been overwhelmingly effective with Her2+ and is now shown to be effective in Her2 low. Dr. McAndrews shared this slide as to how many people diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) could benefit:
I’m starting to understand a little more why there was a standing ovation at ASCO earlier this year when the data showing Enhertu is effective was presented. While Enhertu is only approved for those of us living with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), studies are underway to determine if those diagnosed with early stage disease would benefit, yet another reminder that focusing on those of us living with Stage IV eventually helps everyone.
Throughout the day, I got to spend time with a variety of amazing people, some I’ve known for a bit, others I’ve only known online and new friends. There is nothing else like being at a conference like this, especially now that I’ve spent some time in this community. Some of the people I know and love were asked to help educate everyone on living with MBC during this first day of presentations and I’ve included some pictures of Stephanie Walker and Christine Hodgdon, who utilized their time to highlight the efforts of other patient advocates.
The last slide was a list of 100 MBC patients we have lost, a necessary reminder to the SABCS audience that our work isn’t done.
The rest of my day was taken up with various sessions, learning more about Her2 low, data issues, equity issues, bringing clinical trials to patients, and generally getting oriented until it was time for drinks with some scientists who have become quite involved with SurvivingBreastCancer.org. One of the highlights of the last several trips to San Antonio for this conference is the time I get to spend with the co-founder of SBC, Laura Carfang. This year, we have a team of volunteers and her co-founder, William, in tow as well!
Once we were done with the learning and the kibitzing with the scientists, it was off to the GRASP happy hour. GRASP, which stands for Guiding Researchers and Patients to Scientific Partnerships, debuted at this conference in 2019 and has shifted to virtual meetings ever since, so getting together in person with the scientists, clinicians and patents who make this program a roaring success was such a treat!
After the reception, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Sue Friedman of FORCE, which stands for Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered, for an educational video in partnership between Project Life and The Patient Story and then rushed over to a focus group for Outcomes4Me. It was a crazy day, but so very very productive.
And onto tomorrow …