Second-Line Cancer Treatment

options-webimage credit: Good Search

You’re unique—Just like everyone else. Sometimes a medication, or cancer treatment works for one person, but not another. Some people have several switches in medication before finding one that works for their cancer. It doesn’t make the second (or third, or fourth) line treatment inferior. It just makes it different. Sort of like vanilla works better on my taste buds than chocolate, even though I know most people go for chocolate. I still go for vanilla.

Okay, that’s not exactly cancer talk. Tamoxifen is a medication widely used by women with breast cancer. It didn’t work for me (the tumors grew.) Neither did Femara (the tumors stayed the same size.) The third-line treatment, Aromasin did work (the tumors shrunk.) The side effects of  Tamoxifen and Femara were easier on my mind and body, but they didn’t shrink the tumors. If Aromasin hadn’t worked, I would’ve been back to I.V. chemo for a second time. I’m not crazy about the side effects I get. (Speaking of ice cream, if you’re on Aromasin, take lots and lots of calcium. Ice cream counts, but then go be active!)

The reason your oncologist may suggest moving you to a second-line therapy is because the first one didn’t work for you. Together with your oncologist you can decide the pros and cons about making the move. You may want a more aggressive treatment, where someone else may prefer a less aggressive one that’s easier for them to handle day-after-day.

Consider getting a second opinion. It’s common, especially when dealing with cancer. A second opinion may help you feel more confident about the need to switch therapies, or about the second-line treatment suggested by your oncologist.

You may want to check around for clinical trials.

Also, ask your oncologist. They may, or may not know of trials away from the hospital/clinic where they work. Ask, but don’t give up if they don’t know of any.

Keep in check with your emotions. Just because one treatment didn’t work, doesn’t mean none of them will. Some patients say hearing treatment isn’t working is harder for them to hear than hearing the original diagnosis. Acknowledge your feelings, take care of yourself, and seek support, either socially, through a cancer support group, blogs, spiritual center, or friends and family. Keep in mind, your friends and family may be grappling with what to do or say, and dealing with their own emotions. It may be an opportunity for clear, compassionate, open heart discussions, or seek a professional counselor, therapist, or your medical team, saving non-cancer topics for friends and family. Only you will know who can support you, and who can’t. You’ll know by body language, tone, words and actions done, and not done…

Questions to ask your oncologist if they suggest a second-line treatment:

  • How do you know my treatment isn’t working?
  • What are my options?
  • What side effects might this new treatment cause?

You may know your treatment isn’t working by the size of a tumor being larger, but ask why the switch anyway. Always ask what your options are. There may not be a magic wand near by, but usually the doctors have a “plan B” in their pocket. And, I recently heard “If ‘plan B’ doesn’t work, there are 24 other letters in the alphabet.” There are two ways to view knowing possible side effects before they possibly happen. I take the view of tell me, so if in the middle of the night I experience a nerve-racking one, I know it’s just a side effect. There’ve been a few big ones that really caught me off guard. I called the doctor and would find, “Oh. That’s a really rare side effect, but yes.” Some people would rather not know. It’s for you to decide how to approach.

Complimentary therapies are so mainstream now days, you can say you meditate, go to yoga, massage and acupuncture and no one will cock their head and cross their eyes when you walk away. Ommm.




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