Immunotherapy and Clinical Trials...What Have You Got To Lose?


As I was taking my morning walk this lovely summer day in 2016, I was remembering back to my walks in the summer of 2008. I walk a little further and faster than I did in 2008...about four miles a day now. But back then I walked at a pretty fast clip for about 2-3 miles.

During the summer of 2008, although I felt good for the most part, I also suspected something was just not right with my health. I enjoyed my walks, but there were times I experienced sudden and severe pain—often short-lived—in my middle section.

In August 2008, I accompanied my husband on his visit to our family doctor for suspected kidney stones. I mentioned my own pain and our doctor suggested a CT scan for both Steven and myself.

Steven’s test results were as expected. He had a kidney stone. My scan indicated something the doctor recorded as “extremely unexpected”: It was a tumor, and it proved to be ovarian cancer.

Surgery was performed by a gynecological oncologist, followed by six rounds of intraperitoneal chemotherapy.

In January 2009 we celebrated Christmas (our family agreed to wait until I had finished chemo to do holiday things) and we especially celebrated that I was in remission.

I basked in the good news of no cancer at the moment and returned to my normal life—and indeed my walks again. Our daughter Nicole began reading and researching about clinical trials. Nicole knew from her reading that ovarian cancer is likely to return. She wanted to find something besides traditional chemotherapy to help keep me in remission.

She found information about clinical trials involving immunotherapy. Immunotherapy calls upon the body’s own defenses to fight something foreign — that "something" being cancer.

Insurance covered much of the medical expenses surrounding the trials. We quickly decided that our road trips to Duke University in North Carolina and to Roswell Park in Buffalo, NY (so that I could take part in immunotherapy) would become our vacation trips. I dubbed them “vacations with needles.”

Compared to those with traditional chemotherapy, side effects of the immunotherapy were minor. I sometimes had slight pain at the site of the injection or mild flu-like symptoms, such as low-grade fever or tiredness. But all side effects lasted a short time. They did not keep me from taking long walks while in Buffalo, such as along Lake Erie shoreline or around Delaware Park.

If you are considering starting a clinical trial, either because your doctor recommended it or because you or an advocate found a trial that seems appropriate, I have this easy advice: “GO FOR IT!” What have you got to lose? Trials are safe, well researched and documented. You, as a patient, are monitored and cared for like you never thought possible. You have so much to gain!

I will walk again tomorrow and each day. I will quilt and make pillowcases for kids with cancer. I will teach 4th grade. I will rejoice in life, my family and the fact that immunotherapy is making strides in telling cancer to stay away.