CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — February six years ago, Jennifer Masters, a fifth-grade math teacher and mother of three, found a lump in her breast.
But Masters, of Kentucky, was preparing her students for important state testing and didn’t want them to perform poorly. So she put off getting checked out.
At the end of the school year, Masters finally saw a doctor. The diagnosis was devastating: HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her skin.
“At that time I really felt like my life was over,” she said. “I didn’t have any hope for the next day.”
Because her cancer had spread to her skin, and despite chemo and surgery to remove the lump in her breast, her doctors were not optimistic.
“At that point, they could not do radiation because they said it would just come back,” she said. “They basically said there was nothing they could do for me besides chemotherapy.”
Her doctors referred her to the Cleveland Clinic, where a clinical trial was underway involving Neratinib for patients with cancer like hers. She signed onto the clinical trial and began working with oncologist Dr. Jame Abraham.
Abraham said about 25 percent of patients who have breast cancer have HER2-positive breast cancer.
“She was treated appropriately…but the tumor kept growing even though she was getting the standard…medicine,” said Abraham. “When we saw her…even we were worried. It was primary resistant… at that point.”
But she made the five-hour drive every three weeks for treatments. The side effects were not easy in the beginning, she said, but her body adjusted. Soon, her skin cleared up and she was able to start radiation.
She’s now in remission.
“It was — it was fate,” she said. “It’s never come back, and I’m doing great at this time. I’m very grateful I got to be a part of the study.”
Abraham said Masters always arrived to treatments with a big smile on her face. He’s seen as she’s welcomed her grandkids into her life and as she returned to teaching.
Abraham said thanks to the trial, Masters was able to overcome the resistance to treatment. And the two drugs given to Masters are now FDA approved. He said it likely saved her life.
“I’m really thankful,” he said. “Every new medication we have today…we are thankful to people like Jennifer who volunteer on a trial, who signed a consent form, trusted the doctor, trusted the team and said ‘I will do it.’ And that’s the way we find a better treatment for today and tomorrow.”
Looking back on her experience, Masters said it’s so important to self-check for breast cancer and get mammograms, even when you’re busy.
“As a mother, sometimes we get so involved in taking care of everyone in our family,” she said. “I had three children, I was a school teacher. We are so busy doing that…that sometimes we neglect ourselves.”
She said she’s been blessed to be part of the clinical trial because it changed her life.
“I’m looking forward to my future,” she said. “I do believe everything happened for a reason. I felt like maybe my part in this, maybe helped develop a drug that will help other people. It wasn’t an easy journey, but it was well worth it.”