Like a dad in a drugstore: an analogy for molecular profiling

Good news to share with you today!

My molecular profiling results are IN! We don’t know what they are yet, but there’s HOPE in the air today!

What’s molecular profiling?  Well, here’s a two-minute analogy.  Imagine that your kid gets sick and you call your husband to ask him to stop by the drugstore for some medicine.

If you don’t tell him the child’s symptoms, he’d have to just stand there in front of the long shelf of children’s medicine and choose a bottle at random.  Once in a while, the random medicine would work and the child would recover.  More often than not, though, the medicine wouldn’t work, AND the child would have taken medication she doesn’t need.  Not a good idea, right?

If you tell him that the child has a cold, then he knows to choose from the array of a dozen or so cold medicines for children.  The child may get better, or not, but also he may end up taking much stronger medication than he needs.

But if you tell him exactly what kind of cold it is (cough, stuffy nose, fever), he can zero in on the right bottle and the child will get better quickly without taking unnecessary medication — and without having to wait while someone goes back to the pharmacy every couple days to try a different cold medicine at random.

Are you with me?

Okay.  So.  Cancer treatment today relies on an array of chemotherapy, hormone suppressants, and other drugs to reduce inoperable tumors and keep them from coming back.  All cancer is not the same, however, so it really helps to know what kind of cancer is at work.  Some people, like my neighbor Frank, have had cancers of unknown primary origin.  The doctors can’t tell where the cancer started, so they don’t have much help in narrowing down the specifics.  Treatment of cancer of unknown primary is in its infancy, and the choice of chemotherapy drug can be a little like choosing a random bottle off the shelf.

Those of us who are lucky enough to know where our cancer started have some clues.  We know that we have breast cancer, for example, and we know what part of the shelf to look on for the appropriate medicine.  Beyond that, we know that we have specific markers for our breast cancer — ER+, PR-, HER-2- inflammatory breast cancer, for example, which is what I have.  When my oncologist considers treatments, she’s like the father in the drugstore who knows his kid has a cold.  There are a handful of possible treatments that could work, but some won’t be effective enough, and some are overkill.

How can oncologists choose the right chemotherapy right away?  In January, researchers announced new successes in clinical trials where the patient’s cancerous tissue underwent molecular profiling in a laboratory to identify the exact targets where the cancer is vulnerable.  By knowing what the cancer really looks like, the treating oncologist can then choose a chemotherapy (drug) to treat not just cancer, and not just breast cancer, but the EXACT cancer that the patient actually HAS.  This is incredible and exciting new research, peeps.  I’ve heard over and over this year about the potential power of personalized medicine, and this is MY opportunity to try it out.

I’m excited.  I don’t know if my particular results will call for a particular treatment, but I’m so happy today that this is even a possibility.

In other news, radiation starts tomorrow. I’m not at all worried about it; we’re just going to treat it as an inconvenience until it gets all hurty and stuff.  I’ll have four fields of radiation, two in my armpit and two across my chest from different angles, so as not to irradiate my lungs or heart too much (both cause damage).  I’ll lie down for treatment, they’ll push and pull my limbs until my tattoos are lined up just exactly with the positioning light beams, and then they’ll leave the room as the machine moves into position and sends x-rays onto my skin and the tissue below. Think of it like a rather unpleasant tanning bed, where the cover doesn’t descend, but a small portion of it moves into position so that the lamp shines just on a particular part of your body at a time.  In fact, that’s what I tell my kids happens during radiation:  the light shines on my chest, and I get a sunburn.

The goal of radiation is to kill any remaining cancer cells that escaped before surgery (my pathology report showed that the cancer did escape from each of the 13 positive lymph nodes into the surrounding tissue in my armpit, but both were removed during surgery) and make the area inhospitable for cancer to return.

My latest science policy paper was accepted! Working title:  Principal investigators and project managers: insights from the Discovery line of small planetary missions.  No, it’s not bench science, but on the plus side, I don’t have to have a multi-million dollar mass spectrometer taking up space in my guest bedroom.

So there, cancer!  I’ve got the trifecta today:  treatment, possibility of new and targeted treatment, and accomplishments that have nothing to do with cancer.

Today is a win for me, not the cancer.


34 Responses to Like a dad in a drugstore: an analogy for molecular profiling

  1. *m* says:


  2. You are amazing!

    I am so proud of you, inspired by you and inspired by the hope. Answers baby, work to get better and WORK success too.

    Pretty darn awesome. Just like you.

  3. allison says:

    Look at you, all over cancer treatment and small planetary missions. I can barely see through the glow of how badass awesome you are.

  4. What an amazing analogy! It really helped me better understand the work they are doing to individualize a cancer patient’s treatment.

  5. Amy@UWM says:

    A good day, indeed. It’s amazing the progress we’re making. Have you ever thought of becoming a teacher? You explained all that very well.

  6. camila says:

    Thanks for the post. A bit of hope is always very well welcome. I am not sure which way made me come here for the first time, whether I was searching about mothers who are doing research or whether I was surfing around other themes…The fact is: since I read a couple of posts I got addicted in your way of dealing with life. I wanna be just like that when I grow up! Thanks for the words and for the hope. All the best from a brazilian mother.

  7. jenn kirby says:

    I got an email from Dr. Oz that mentioned this today! Sounds AWESOME. More cancer ass-kicking-boots!

  8. Sarah says:

    Fabulous news on all fronts!

  9. Amanda says:

    I love cheering you on!

  10. NYFriend says:

    Yea for the trifecta!

  11. Kate @ upsidebackwards says:

    This is such a happy post, it almost had me dancing! 🙂 Fingers crossed for really useful results from the molecular profiling.
    And HOORAY! for working and writing and getting published. Well done. Big hugs!

  12. Susan says:

    Cheers for good news!

  13. Jana says:

    Bravo! Real McCoy inspiring. How did you get the molecular profiling — via Lombardi? Did Lombardi do it in-house, or did they send it out to some lab somewhere? And how long did it take — how long did you have to wait for the results? Thanks

  14. Lynn says:

    Cancers of unknown primary origin are sometimes the result of blood transfusions from years ago, or transplants from someone who once had cancer, such as melanoma, and was cured or in remission for over 20 years.

    It seems inappropriate to say I enjoy your blog. I found is searing for blogs on chemotherapy.

    Lynn. Stage 3. Grade 2/3 uterine cancer with metastases.

  15. That is fabulous! Here’s to not wandering aimlessly around the aisles of CVS!

    And? You are amazing. On so many fronts.

  16. sarah says:

    very good news!

  17. Elaine says:

    This is so incredible on every front. I love it!

  18. Kristin says:

    Reading your story reminds me of an author in a very similar situation. Alesia Shute is a childhood cancer survivor and wrote her story. Check out her website because the two of you might be able to help each other.
    Here’s to keeping up the fight!

  19. magpie says:

    I’m happy for your WIN.

  20. Wow. Can’t tell you how much the analogies help me to understand better, my friend. Really.

    You. Are. Amazing. Congrats on the paper!!

    Seriously–looking forward to hanging tonight!


  21. Bon says:

    a win for you indeed! congrats on the paper – well done. and the idea of molecular profiling blows my mind. i begin to realize that medicine & treatment has in many ways remained a very blunt instrument, and i hope that change comes very soon. more research, like you’ve been teaching us.

    good luck with the radiation. lots of love.

  22. Ruthie from California says:

    Touche! Take that, cancer!

  23. Thank you for explaining! I am thrilled that things are moving along for you and I love your attitude!! As always, you are in my prayers. Can’t wait to see ya on Saturday night!

  24. Adam says:

    Nothing quite so annoying as an unwelcome mass spectrometer taking up residence in the guest bed room. It’s only slightly worse than having visiting Vogons.

  25. Aunt Pat says:

    Great New’s Hang in there ! Better days ahead !

    Much Love

  26. JoC says:

    Excellent analogy. Thank you for continuing to teach us. A win or 3 for you indeed!

  27. Amelie says:

    That’s three great pieces of news, Susan! Wonderful!

  28. Hi,

    This is Vicky Silvers, I am an editor for We are a medical publication whose focus is geared towards promoting awareness on hospitals, including information, news, and reviews on them. We would like to have our site included within your blog and offer our information to your readers, of course we would be more than happy to list your website within our directory as well.

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  29. dipaolamomma says:

    First, that has GOT to be about THE best analogy EVAH! Second, how do you know my husband? Really, I’d like to know;0)

    That you can take that outlook on radiation makes you one step closer to super-hero-dum in my book!

    Lastly, is it totally awkward if I tell you that I got all tingly when you used the term “mass spectrometer” in this post? My Trekker longing was sparked.

  30. Marcia says:

    That’s awesome! From a fellow BC mom of little ones, can you please let me know the trial/where you got your molecular profiling test done? I’d love to be able to do that as well.

    Thanks and I hope the results are such that you’ll have lots of targeted drugs to kill those nasty cells!


  31. Gretchen says:

    Really glad to hear that this is a possibility now!!! And hope that the answers are helping out. Thinking about you lots.

  32. NoR says:

    You are amazing.

  33. Ecobabe says:

    You are amazing ( but I suspect you know that). All this and a paper too….crazy cool!

  34. Bruce says:

    Thanks. There is no doubt that a strong immune system is important. Keep staying positive. And keep that body in great shape sweety 🙂

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