Cancer Patient Crusades For Avastin

FDA Removing Approval Of Breast Cancer Drug Over Safety Concerns

Avastin's approval as a treatment for breast cancer is in the process of being pulled and for Patty Esquibel, the news is devastating.

"The magic of this belt. It's going to heaven with me," said Esquibel, holding up a championship fighting belt she received as a gift.

It is a fitting symbol of strength for a woman living with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

Esquibel was diagnosed in the summer of 2008 and the championship belt has become a symbol of her fight.

"I'm a fighter and it don't matter what stage it is. I'm going to keep fighting," said Esquibel.

Medically, her treatments have been working.

"Going on six months cancer-free," she said.

Emotionally, she has found support in an unlikely place.

Patty is a fan of cage fighting. Now, the very athletes who have entertained her have become her biggest supporters.

"Yeah, it meant a lot to me when I won it," said Mixed Martial Arts pro fighter Kreg Hartle. "But it means a lot more to me to have her have it and give her something. That's way more empowering than it sitting on my wall."

Patty is in the fight of her life. Now she is taking on another opponent; the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, and their decision to remove approval for the drug Avastin for breast cancer use.

"I try and be strong and I want to be strong and I know I'm strong. But wow, that hit me like a ton of bricks when the nurse called and said we have to cancel your treatments," said Esquibel.

Avastin is designed to work with chemotherapy drugs to reduce blood flow to tumors and stop cancer from spreading. Esquibel is convinced it has been keeping her alive.

I was devastated and thought, 'What do I do now? What's going to happen?'"

The FDA started the process of removing Avastin's approval on Dec. 16 because it said, "The serious risks outweigh the limited benefits for treatment of patients with metastatic breast cancer."

Those risks include severe high blood pressure, internal bleeding and heart failure.

"We deal with changes in therapy all of the time," said Dr. Virginia Borges, with the University of Colorado Hospital Cancer Center.

Borges treats Esquibel and prescribed Avastin for nine months.

"This drug was part of a trio of things that we used to try and combat her cancer and the trio had a great effect," Borges said.

But the doctor is not convinced Avastin alone helped Esquibel.

"How much this drug contributed to the strength of that trio nobody could tell you," said Borges.

"Unfortunately, there's not anything like Avastin for me," said Esquibel.

Esquibel said it is drug worth fighting for.

So far, 10,000 people agree with her. Esquibel has joined a Facebook page hoping to get the FDA to reverse its decision.

"I hope to continue to be treatable if and when it comes back. Let there be a medicine for me. Let there be something to help me and help me continue to live and enjoy life, because I enjoy living. Can't go backwards. It's not an option," Esquibel said.

The maker of Avastin, Genentech, has requested a hearing with the FDA to dispute the FDA's decision.

Genentech is in the process of building its case and will present its evidence this month.

Esquibel said she would use Avastin again if it becomes available. Patients must pay for it out of pocket and it costs $8,000 per treatment.

Friends of Esquibel are holding a Zumba benefit party to support her. The party on Jan. 15 will be at the La Familia Rec Center at 65 S. Elati Street in Denver. The event starts at 11 a.m.

For more information on Avastin and the FDA:

Read the FDA Letter To Patients Regarding Avastin.

Read the FDA Announcement About Avastin.

Read the manufacturer's Information About Avastin.