This treatment has given me a number of years of complete health. It’s not just that I’m here sort of surviving, I’m back to 100 percent of where I was before this ever happened.
Rachael Rothman thought she made the transition — from breast cancer patient to breast cancer survivor. Initially diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer in 2011, the Virginia mom was told in 2012, she was cancer-free.
But less than a year later, she found a lump. Her oncologist confirmed her cancer had come back — this time it was stage 4 metastatic triple-negative breast cancer — one of the most difficult-to-treat forms of cancer — and she’d likely only live a few more months.
“My oncologist gave me a sheet of paper that stated the projected lifespan for a stage 4 triple-negative breast cancer patient is three to nine months after recurrence,” Rachael says.
She adds: “I felt like I did everything right. I did everything I was told to do, and it still didn’t work. I felt defeated and discouraged by the diagnosis.”
As the mother of an active five- and seven-year-old, Rachael refused to accept the prognosis. So she went in search of a second opinion — several, in fact, from many of the nation’s leading cancer care centers.
“I went to see four top experts in triple-negative breast cancer and got nine different recommendations on chemotherapy, and none of them were the same,” she says.
As she tried to decipher what treatment would extend her life and the time she could spend with her children, Rachael began radiation therapy. Relying on a network of current and former clinicians in a handful of states across the country, she found out about a breast cancer clinical trial at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Rachael says, “I knew I didn’t want to do the standard thing. I’m not going to just do what you already told me to do because I just did that and it didn’t work.”
The clinical trial was for an anti-copper drug that helps prevent the spread of cancer by removing the infrastructure that tumors need to spread that are dependent on copper.
What they found was that certain cells in the bone marrow are hypnotized by the cancer and help tumors spread. First by leaving a "popcorn trail" for tumor cells to follow to a distant metastatic site, and secondly by providing critical infrastructure to help tumors actually grow. Investigators at Weill Cornell determined that when copper is removed, the breast cancer cells can’t move or grow.
“The drug kind of converts cancer into a chronic disease because it keeps it from progressing,” Rachael explains. “People can live regular lifespans with a chronic disease, as long as the disease is in check.”
Now four years into the trial, Rachael’s cancer has not spread. She travels to New York every four weeks to have her medication adjusted based on the level of copper in her system.
“This treatment has given me a number of years of complete health. It’s not just that I’m here sort of surviving, I’m back to 100 percent of where I was before this ever happened,” Rachael says. “I work full-time, I travel, I raise my kids. I’m just like any other person walking down the street.”
“I might be better as a matter of fact,” she adds, laughing. “I have hard evidence I don’t have any active cancer in my system.”