Air Force Mom Faces Advanced Breast Cancer



Defending their country using the most innovative tools and methods available is what the warriors in Melinda’s family have always done.

In the 1980s, Melinda was working as an Air Force procurement officer in North Dakota when she met her husband who, like her father, flew B-52 bombers.

Spending three years in Germany and relocating to a half dozen states while raising two sons, the couple was constantly on the move throughout her husband’s 28-year career as a military aviator.

Being able to adapt to new challenges became paramount for Melinda and her family.

And over the years, as captain of her family’s crew, Melinda learned to skillfully navigate the twists and turns of military life. But nothing quite prepared her for the bombshell that came in 2004 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“My oldest son was a senior in high school when I was diagnosed and my youngest was in middle school,” Melinda recalls. “Cancer is a word that scares everybody. We didn’t know what was going to happen. I got radiation and then we passed the five-year mark of being cancer free and thought everything was good. I thought I had beaten cancer and was in the clear. Then, I found a lump on my collarbone. I’ll never forget that call from the doctor: ‘I hate to say it, but it’s back and you need to start chemotherapy.’”

MELINDA’S BIGGEST BATTLE YET

In 2012, Melinda was diagnosed with stage IV HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer (MBC), a cancer driven by a particular protein that had spread to other parts of her body. This began a decade-long odyssey of fighting her breast cancer with modern medicine’s armamentarium of combination therapies against her recurring disease.

But Melinda was determined to remain strong and overcome this challenge.

When Melinda’s oncologist found a cancer spot on her brain, doctors used gamma-knife radiation to successfully neutralize it, shrinking the tumor in her brain. Over the next several years — with the support of her family, friends, and military community — Melinda continued to be optimistic while fighting her cancer.

She was treated with various medications, including several types of chemotherapy that worked for a while, but the cancer continued to spread to her shoulder, skin and lungs. By 2020, Melinda’s oncologist noticed her tumor markers were rapidly increasing, which meant in Melinda’s case, the treatment was no longer effectively controlling the cancer.

ANOTHER CHANCE AT TREATMENT

This is when Melinda learned about TUKYSA, and talked about the benefits and risks with her doctor. TUKYSA is an FDA-approved treatment used in combination with trastuzumab and capecitabine for the treatment of advanced unresectable or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer in patients who have received at least one prior anti-HER2 breast cancer treatment. Click here to watch a video and learn more about TUKYSA.

Please see Important Safety Information for TUKYSA below.

At her follow-up appointment, Melinda’s oncologist shared great news: The treatment was working.

“I was overjoyed,” she says. “This treatment seems to be working really well for me.”

Since taking the TUKYSA regimen, Melinda has experienced side effects of body aches and occasional constipation.

While TUKYSA will not work for everyone, for Melinda, it has provided an opportunity to enjoy the things she loves.

Experiences with TUKYSA differ among individuals, and TUKYSA will not work for everyone.

CHOOSING JOY

Although MBC can never be cured, Melinda still emphasizes the importance of taking one day at a time and finding sources of happiness along the way.

When she started the TUKYSA regimen, Melinda wanted to live long enough to see her son earn his wings and graduate from the prestigious United States Air Force Weapons School in Nevada to become a third-generation Air Force pilot flying B-2 stealth fighters.

Melinda’s other dream of becoming a grandmother came to life in fall 2021 when her grandson Dean was born. He instantly lit up her world.

The next hopeful steps for Melinda include moving to a house near the beach with her husband, spending more time with her family, exploring the outdoors, and sharing her story of resilience with others.

“I think the reason I’m still here is to share my experience with others so they can learn from it.”

In the end, occurrences like graduation, new additions to the family, and retiring with a loved one are the reasons Melinda remains strong, because each moment the future holds is precious and worth fighting for.

TUKYSA is a prescription medicine used with the medicines trastuzumab and capecitabine to treat adults with human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) positive breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body such as the brain (metastatic) or that cannot be removed by surgery, and adults who have received one or more anti-HER2 breast cancer treatments. It is not known if TUKYSA is safe and effective in children.

Important Safety Information

What are the possible side effects of TUKYSA?

TUKYSA may cause serious side effects, including:

  • Diarrhea (watery, loose, or frequent stools) is common and can sometimes be severe. Tell your healthcare provider if you have a change in your bowel movements or severe diarrhea. Severe diarrhea can cause a loss of too much body fluid (dehydration), low blood pressure, kidney problems, and death. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to treat your diarrhea during treatment with TUKYSA.
  • Liver Problems, including severe cases. Your healthcare provider will test your blood to check your liver function before starting and every three weeks during treatment with TUKYSA, or as needed. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have any signs and symptoms of liver problems including itching, yellowing of the skin or eyes, dark or brown urine (tea-colored), pain or discomfort in the right upper stomach area (abdomen), feeling very tired, decreased appetite, or bleeding or bruising more easily than normal.

The most common side effects of TUKYSA:

  • diarrhea
  • rash, redness, pain, swelling, or blisters on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet
  • nausea
  • tiredness
  • increased liver function blood tests
  • vomiting
  • mouth sores (stomatitis)
  • decreased appetite
  • stomach-area (abdomen) pain
  • headache
  • a low number of red blood cells (anemia)
  • rash

Your healthcare provider may change your dose of TUKYSA, temporarily stop, or permanently stop treatment with TUKYSA if you have certain side effects.

TUKYSA may cause fertility problems in males and females, which may affect the ability to have children. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns about fertility.

These are not all the possible side effects of TUKYSA. Discuss side effects with your healthcare provider. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

What should I tell my healthcare provider before taking TUKYSA?

Before taking TUKYSA, tell your healthcare provider about all of your medical conditions, including if you:

  • have liver problems.
  • are pregnant or plan to get pregnant. TUKYSA can harm your unborn baby.
  • Females who are able to become pregnant: Your healthcare provider will do a pregnancy test before you start taking TUKYSA. Use effective birth control (contraception) during TUKYSA treatment and for at least one week after the last dose of TUKYSA. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you become pregnant or think you may be pregnant during treatment with TUKYSA.
  • Males with a female partner who can get pregnant: Use effective birth control during TUKYSA treatment and for at least one week after the last dose of TUKYSA.
  • are breastfeeding (nursing) or plan to breastfeed. Do not breastfeed during treatment with TUKYSA and for at least one week after the last dose of TUKYSA.

Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. TUKYSA may affect the way your other medicines work and other medicines may affect the way TUKYSA works. Keep a list of all the medicines you take and show it to your healthcare provider and pharmacist every time you get a new medicine.

Please see Important Facts about TUKYSA.

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