Laurie LaGrange was 44 years old when she was diagnosed with stage IV HER2/neu breast cancer. She was not overweight, exercised regularly, never had any major illnesses, didn’t smoke or drink and had no family history of breast cancer.
Her doctors thought they had caught it early, but it had spread to her liver. “I don’t want to die. I want to see my children grow up, I want to grow old with my husband,” Laurie said as she cried her eyes out with her Mom after telling the news to her two young sons.
Thirteen years ago, women diagnosed with HER2/neu breast cancer were literally sent home to die because chemotherapy drugs were ineffective in stopping the spread of HER2/neu cancer cells.
However, in 1986, Dr. Dennis Slamon began research to develop a drug called herceptin, which would prevent the HER2/neu cancer cell growth. Because his approach was so new, Dr. Slamon could not find funding. The American Cancer Society provided him with a grant to take the first steps in his research. This then allowed him to convince federal funders that his approach would work.
After six months of chemo with three different types of drugs, including herceptin, the tumor in Laurie’s liver disappeared. Unfortunately, nine months later, the tumor returned, but there did not appear to be cancer anywhere else. Laurie’s doctor said it could be attributed to the herceptin, which probably kept the cancer from spreading. Laurie had surgery to remove the tumor and continued to receive herceptin treatments once every three weeks. April 20, 2010 marked one year in remission.
“It is because of cancer research that I am here today,” Laurie says. It is because of the investment the American Cancer Society makes in research that cancer patients like Laurie are celebrating more birthdays.