Just four weeks ago, Celeste Mills was discussing arrangements for hospice with her doctor after treatment to control her metastatic breast cancer stopped working.
"The end was very near, and the quality in her life was done," said Dr. John Glaspy, of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, who was preparing end-of-life care for Mills.
Mills has been fighting metastatic breast cancer for 14 years. And for a long time, it was controlled by the medication Herceptin.
But when the treatment stopped working, the cancer spread throughout her body.
"The cancer had grown in an area where if I laid flat on my back I couldn’t breathe," Mills said. "Something big, really big had to happen."
That big thing was a first-of-its-kind drug that the FDA was considering, called Kadcyla. Mills just had to stay alive long enough for the medication to gain approval.
Three days after Mills began hospice, the FDA approved Kadcyla.
Her doctor called the drug maker immediately and the medication was rushed to her.
The next day, Mills became the first person in the country to receive Kadcyla, delivered by IV infusion.
"I feel great," Mills said. "I don’t know how long this ride is going to be, but it’s going to be the best ride of my life. And I have lots of things I want to do."
Kadcyla is stronger than Herceptin, and packs an extra punch.
"It is linked to a very powerful chemotherapy drug. It’s a way of delivering very high, very toxic amounts of chemotherapy to the tumor, without delivering them to the normal part of the patient," Glaspy said.
Two weeks later, she was able to breathe on her back again.
"It’s clear she’s got major clinical benefit," Glaspy said.
She is doing so well, in fact, that she is planning a vacation to Hawaii.
This doesn’t mean she is cured or that she is out of danger. Only time will tell how well the drug will perform long term.
Kadcyla carries side effects and the drug is not for every breast cancer patient. Ask your doctor what is best for you.