Lissette Lavarria thought she had already beaten breast cancer.
The mother of two and pediatrician was first diagnosed in 2008, she went into remission for a year and a half then in November 2011 it came back with a vengeance.
“It started to spread to my lungs and my spine. I’m in stage 4 now but I feel strong and positive,” said Lavarria.
But doctors at MD Anderson in Orlando said there is now more hope than ever before for women like Lissette.
More drugs than ever before are available that attack the most advanced stages of breast cancer and many of them improve quality of life, because they are personalized and targeted.
“Women live with this diagnosis for years and years and sometimes decades,” said Dr. Nikita Shah, a breast cancer oncologist at MD Anderson.
Shah recently oversaw a clinical trial for the drug Afinitor.
“(In the study) all they take is pills. So this is something that is very convenient because this is something that they take at home. They may go into the doctor's office every so often but they can continue to live their life,” said Shah.
Afinitor works with other drugs that target specific hormones. In the study, women who took it saw two times more progress than those without it.
“That's our future is what we call personalized medicine where the cancer specific treatment is used rather than something like chemotherapy,” she said.
Shah said it is only possible because so many women are willing to take part in clinical trials.
“The last decade has been phenomenal as far as breast cancer drugs being available, we have more drugs now than we ever did. We have more targeted drugs,” she said.
Even chemotherapies like the one Lissette is getting is a brand new drug. It had only been available for five weeks when she had her first treatment.
She is positive and optimistic that it will work, but when she thinks of the possibility that she may not be there for her children, she breaks down.
“Yes, you cry a little bit, but when you see what's all around you and how many people depend on you that gives you the power and the strength to keep fighting,” she said.
Lissette will also take part in a clinical trial this time around. During her first bout with cancer she was skeptical about trial drugs that were offered to her but now that she has seen the progress being made she is willing to give it a shot
Information about clinical trials based on location and treatment type is available online.