Tag Archives: targeted therapies

Kumo and I pay a brief visit to the Ivy League

Or rather, they paid us a visit, as I had the privilege of being interviewed for a story in the May/June issue of Harvard Magazine. The news just came through that I am a cover girl as well.

The article, Targeting Cancer, features Harvard researchers, including my personal goddess/oncologist, Dr. Alice Shaw.

Jonathan Shaw, the managing editor of Harvard Magazine, has written a marvelously comprehensive overview as to where the treatment of cancer is currently but also the directions in which it is heading. Says one researcher about acquired resistance: “We’re not going to get there in one fell swoop…We’ll get there by keeping people alive longer and longer, until eventually, it becomes a numbers game where the goal is to eradicate all the tumor cells and leave none behind that have drug resistance mechanisms that allow them to escape.”

It is the sort of heady stuff that inspires hope, and a potent reminder that some truly great minds are in this battle with us. And, that in this numbers game, each day is a little victory.

Great just got better still

On several occasions over the past few years, David and I have tossed around the possibility of moving back west. At one point, he mulled over a very good job offer in California. In addition, we’ve always felt a strong westward pull toward my family, who aside from Jemesii and Jamie, are scattered between Colorado, Texas, Utah and Alaska. “Why don’t you just move to St. George?” my mom has asked. “We have a really good hospital.”

And there’s the catch. I am still alive because I am a patient at not just a good hospital, but a really great hospital, a hospital where so far, research has managed to stay one step ahead of my cancer.

Well, that really great hospital has gotten even better. On Tuesday I attended the opening of the Henri and Belinda Termeer Center For Targeted Therapies. The event began with a symposium in the Ether Dome, located in the Bullfinch Building at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Jose Baselga (who is leaving MGH to take over the helm as Physician-in-Chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) spoke of the impact targeted therapies have had in the redesign of clinical trials.

Dr. Robert A. Weinberg, who was instrumental in the isolation of both the first human oncogene, ras, as well as Rb, the first known tumor suppressor gene, addressed the natural evolution from early identification of oncogenes to the development of targeted therapies.

And then Dr. Keith Flaherty, now the Director for the Henri and Belinda Termeer Center For Targeted Therapies, described the role the center would play, both clinically and in the research setting.

We were then treated to a tour of the center, which is located on the 7th floor of the Yawkey building. I had expected just an expanded laboratory, but it is an entire unit dedicated to phase I clinical trials, with sparkling new private rooms boasting windows to the outside world.

The evening concluded with a moving testimonial from John Murphy, an early participant in a trial for patients with melanoma. And of course a few words from Henri Termeer ( the former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of Genzyme Corporation), who along with his wife Belinda, are the generous donors who made the center a reality.

My feelings that evening could be summed up in three words: awe (of the company I was momentarily keeping), gratitude and hope. Those of us with cancer are supported by an entire army of truly brilliant, incredibly dedicated and endlessly resourceful individuals who are simply not going to back down. Cancer, you are in for a hell of a fight.

The (positive) power of the media

L1010275At dusk the past two days, the moon has risen just over the lake, turning the water a shimmery silver.  When I have awakened in the middle of the night , it has been to a world transformed:  moonlight has bleached most everything a bluish white except for what it cannot reach, and that is in deep shadow.

This morning the ground was covered in hoar frost, and the lakes we passed on the way to Pete’s bus stop had the sluggish appearance of mercury.  Frosty vapor rose from the surface; it was simply exquisite.  When I returned home I grabbed my camera and snapped this shot of the leaves rimmed in frost.

Yesterday I drove to Boston for my trial date.  Everything except for the commute is now an abbreviated version of its former self.  My labs and my visit with Dr. Shaw take place in the thoracic oncology wing, and I visit infusion only to be dosed and to pick up a month’s worth of PF-02341066.  All of this is indicative of progress, but it also means less interaction with Marguerite, Sarah and Jose (and no Irene!).  I miss our more extended visits, but each brief reunion feels as if I am greeting dear friends–which is the direction in which these relationships have developed.

Alice still devotes as much time to our appointments as before; she is an extraordinary doctor in this regard.  Yesterday we reviewed the scans I had done almost two weeks hence.  I had been just a wee bit anxious, as it had been necessary to take a four day holiday from the drug, and I had not done that before.  My lungs looked great; everything is stable.  I am hugely relieved.

There is more good news.  ABC was in the house, filming a patient for a report that will air later in the week.  This gentleman had been watching television on June 2nd when the segment on personalized medicine was shown:  he is a young, never-smoker with advanced NSCLC that had not been responding to previous treatments.  Like me, he did not have the EGFR mutation.  When he heard my story and saw the image of my lungs, he was struck by the similarities to his own situation.  Although he lives some distance from Boston, he contacted Dr. Shaw and had his tumor tested for the ALK mutation.  The test was positive, and he started almost immediately on the PF-002341066 trial.  He too has had a fantastic response, and yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting him.  He looks fabulous and he said he feels great as well.

I have also been in close contact with another young, never-smoker who is enrolled in the Korean cohort of the trial.  She also was tested for the ALK-mutation after her sister saw the ABC report and contacted Dr. Shaw.  She too has had a very postive response.

This is all so exciting to me on several levels.  First, any good news from others in this battle is cause for celebration.  Secondly, to actually witness the positive impact of a newscast in which I was a participant.  All too often news is bad news, and we forget that media plays a very important role in the dissemination of information.  And it generally has a ripple effect:  after this new story airs on ABC World News, even more people will become aware of what could potentially be a life-saving treatment for them.

Finally, there is the even bigger picture.  Because I had (and a number of others as well) a positive response to PF-02341066 so early in the trial, there was always the possibility that it was a fluke.  As the trial continues, and a greater number of participants have positive responses, it is looking more like a trend.  I really believe that we are on the leading edge of some big breakthroughs in the study and treatment of lung cancer. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and one of messages that advocates are trying to get across is the need for more funding to be earmarked for lung cancer research.  As one of a growing number of individuals who has personally benefitted from innovative research, I can testify to the validity of this call.  Let’s hope that the individuals and the organizations who can make this happen are listening.

Good news: Pfizer, Abbott and my latest scan

I headed down the highway to Boston at a little past six in the morning yesterday. Those grasses that I marveled at two days prior were now covered in dew, and in the early morning light it looked like so much pink froth.  Incredible!

Traffic is a bear this time of day, and even with my early departure, I arrived only a few minutes prior to my 9:30 a.m. appointment.  After the white ID bracelet was placed on my wrist, (hospital jewelry) my weight, blood pressure and oxygen levels were checked. I was then led to a room and given a warm blanket.  Rosalba did my blood draws. Jose provided me with a new schedule, a months supply of PF-02341066, and a hug. Irene stopped by for a chat and a wee bit of acupuncture, and Marguerite to check in and for conversation.  Dr. Shaw (Alice) gave me a brief physical and went over Monday’s scans. Happily, everything is stable.

When a radiologist reads a scan, they carefully note each nodule, micro calcification and appearance of inflammation.  My lungs have some of each. Although any of these features could indicate disease, they may also represent scarring and inflammation that is benign.  Stability, or a lack of visual change, is a very reassuring indication (surpassed only by the ever hoped for complete resolution).

As of October 1st, I will have been on the trial drug for one year.  A year of stability is huge.  I have stage IV NSCLC and I have gone for almost an entire year without progression of disease, AND I have felt great.  If you’re not jumping up and down yet, start now:  statistically speaking, I should probably be dead, and not only am I still alive, I am not sick.  I feel great.  This really is flipping amazing.

Yesterday the New York Times had an article about Pfizer’s current focus on developing new drugs to treat cancer (click here). Pfizer is the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, and in the past oncology has not been one of their top focuses. They are also the maker of the experimental drug (PF-02341066) that is responsible for the halt of my lung cancer.

This article comes on the heels of an announcement that Pfizer will collaborate with Abbott Laboratories to develop a test to identify genetic mutations in NSLC (click here). Abbott’s test shall be specifically designed to search for the ALK mutation present in approximately 6-7% of tumors, in order to determine who will best benefit from treatment with PF-02341066.

It is clear that both Pfizer and Abbott see great promise in targeted therapies and are prepared to pour a lot of time and money into research and development.  I couldn’t be happier. It’s good to have some very big guns up at the front in the war against cancer.  It’s a real morale booster for those of us in the trenches.