Meeting my Heroes - A Field Trip to Genentech

Hero is such a loaded word. It's filled with all kinds of powerful imagery - men in capes swooping down from skyscrapers, firefighters covered in soot carrying puppies and babies out of buildings, large, grand, swooping events that turn on a dime, preferably with lots of explosions.

And then there are my heros - the people who have SAVED MY LIFE, not just kept me from dying but kept me from living in the constant, creeping, yuckiness of traditional chemo treatments. They don't wear capes (or they didn't when I met them) and they went to battle in more boardrooms then in clouds or fast car races. They do work in a futurisitic cave filled with lots of cool gadgets (more white than black bat cave, and also more light and better view and less dripping water) but whatever. I digress. As usual. 

The point is that I have a different kind of hero. The scientists who invented this amazing drug that I am on. It's smart chemo. It's not dropping an atom bomb on my ENTIRE system - it's delivering a super potent (like, up to 1,000x more effective than the chemo I've already received) but JUST IN THE BADLY BEHAVING CANCER CELLS. It's the difference between hitting a targeted missile with perfect precision and dropping an nucleur warhead on an entire city. And by that I mean, in terms of the awful, terrible, hair falling out, nausea inducing, immunocompromising side effects which so far this treatment has been completely free of. That's right, nada. My eyebrows actually appear to be growing in faster.

It's amazing. These scientists are amazing. They are heros in the truest sense of the word.

So getting to meet them, and have them answer our questions (I say "our" because HBF is really, really good at this science-y stuff - like, did you know the DM1 in T-DM1 comes from a fungus that grows on an ethiopian bush? There are like, brew vats filled with the stuff trucking away somewhere, making my life saving drug the way mere mortal vats make beer. Or did you know that in Her+ breast cancer cells, those greedy little devils produce their own "food" in the form of increasing the presence her2neu in a single breast cell from 20,000 to over 2 million, thereby pumping their own growth! Those bad, greedy cells! No wonder I jumped from no tumor to 6cm in 3 months - those little demons were cheating!)

I learned so much about the process of developing this revolutionary treatment, the way they made it work, and the process which got it from their labs into my veins. 

Her+ cancers make up about 20% of all new cases of breast cancer in women. They also tend to be more common in young women, and more rapidly developing than other kinds of breast cancer (see greedy cell gobbling explanation above) which has, in the past led to a higher mortality rate in young women with this kind of cancer. That could have been me, if I wasn't lucky enough to have been diagnosed in the last year - a year in which Kadcyla (and Perjeta) both became available on the market. 

I wont bore you too much with the science-y stuff but it was so cool to learn the way that all of this happened, the way that the drugs work, the process of developing them (and even some of the missteps!) and, even better, to get to meet and thank the people who made it possible. But again, I can't say it enough, from the bottom of my heart, YOU ARE MY HEROS! Thank you! 

Some photos from the tour:


This guy is GROWING SKIN to try to counteract some of the skin related side effects #myhero

My Kadcyla tattoo (don't worry mommy, it's temporary)

Breakfast & an Austin Powers photo bomb #duh

The Founders of Genentech, in bronze, just chillin

Not a bad view guys 

The T-DM1 (aka Kadcyla) molecule, drawn by the person who created it #frameitonmywallplease

The whole super hero team (and me) 

looks like my closet #oops

science magic happens here

The Her2 family action figures...

Breast cancer cells just growing away, being all bad and stuff

Me looking at them, thinking dark thoughts...


Yay!!