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Eight years out – Cancer patient turns to genomic testing

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Eight years out – Cancer patient turns to genomic testing

When her breast cancer returned after eight years, Tipton resident Brenda Raver turned to IU Health’s Precision Genomics team for a specialized treatment plan.

There’s a picture of Brenda Raver wearing a purple and white striped top. In her arms she’s holding her newborn grandson. Her smile hides the fact that the picture was taken on what she calls one of the “worst days and one of the best days” of her life.

Graham Thomas was born June 27, 2017 and he’s helped Raver get through some tough times. The day he entered the world Raver was beginning four treatments of Adriamycin + Cytoxan – a combined chemotherapy drug. After eight years, with no symptoms or issues, she felt a lump in the area at the top of her right clavicle. It was May 2017. Raver contacted IU Health’s Dr. Jennifer Morgan who ordered a CT scan and a neck biopsy. For the second time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The first bout was in 2007. This time the diagnosis was Stage 4 metaplastic sarcomatoid carcinoma, Stage 4, a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer.

By August, another scan showed little reduction in the mass, so she began 12 cycles of Taxol chemotherapy, known to interfere with the growth of cancer cells and slow the growth of and spread in the body. But after the treatment, there was still little change in the cancerous area. So December 2017, she underwent a lengthy surgery – a modified neck dissection and a right auxiliary lymphadenectomy.

“They removed 34 lymph nodes between my neck area and under my arm,” said Raver, who was in the surgical care of IU Health Drs. Kandice Ludwig and Hadley Ritter. She then had 28 radiation treatments under the care of IU Health radiation oncologist Dr. Surjeet Pohar. At the end of December 2017 Raver met with IU Health hematologist/oncologist Dr. Bryan Schneider director of the Precision Genomics Program. By sequencing a patient’s genome, precision genomics physicians can create a treatment plan specific to the care of patients with metastatic cancer.

For Raver, that meant a recommendation of Xeloda, an oral chemotherapy drug. She started the drug in April of 2018 – 14 days on and seven days off.

“Through it all, my worst side effect was severe fatigue,” said Raver. She also suffers with lymphedema in my right arm and some neuropathy in her feet due to the Taxol. The only side effects of the Xeloda have been dry palms, hands and feet. She applies ointment to sooth the discomfort.

“The benefits of the drug far outweigh the side effects,” said Raver. “The lymphedema in my arm and the neuropathy in my feet are nothing compared to being so sick. Yes, I’m tired of putting chemicals in my body but I’m grateful for the advances they’ve made in the last eight years.”

Raver says she will remain on the drug as long as it is working. “I will have a PET scan every 90 days. The last two scans have been clear. They know from my molecular structure that this drug is inhibiting the growth of cancer cells in my body. That’s a good thing,” said Raver, who turned 62 on January 5.

These days she enjoys babysitting her grandson, and looks forward to celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary to husband Mark a trip to Hawaii this summer. Together they have a daughter, and a son – the father of Graham Thomas.

A Purdue graduate, she is part of a family that bleeds black and gold. She enjoys watching college and professional football, and favors both the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints - because Purdue’s Drew Brees serves as the team’s quarterback. She’s also a Cubs fan.

“I stay busy and I enjoy life. I like to garden in the summer and host a lot of family gatherings. I’m thankful I can still do those things I love,” said Raver. “I can’t say enough about the wonderful care and treatment I have received from the IU Health staff. That includes everyone from all of my doctors, nurses, technicians and administrative staff - especially, Dr. Morgan and her office staff. Everyone has treated me with utmost respect and concern for my continued healing and improved health.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email