• Stage IV diagnosis leads to chemotherapy
• Switching chemotherapies to counter side effects
• Tumors start growing again
• A clinical trial makes a difference
I was at a Clemson University tailgate party at Panthers Stadium here in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live. My daughter noticed that my eyes and skin were very yellow. We just happened to be with some med students who advised us to go to the ER. I went to Novant Hospital, and while there, they did a CT scan and saw that I had a tumor on my pancreas and on my liver.
They admitted me and I spent five days in the hospital while they did tests to confirm everything (including a liver biopsy). They sent me home with an appointment to see the oncologist. The only other symptom I had was a few days of constipation and weight loss. I’m a fitness instructor so the weight loss didn’t alarm me.
Finding a Doctor Willing to Fight
I ended up getting a second opinion with Levine Cancer Institute because they have the best reputation around Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live. The surgeon told me that my tumor was inoperable, and I had three to six months to live. My oncologist Dr. Jimmy Hwang was much more supportive and scheduled me for aggressive chemo. Fluorouracil, irinotecan, oxaliplatin, and leucovorin (FOLFIRINOX) worked well for about eight months, keeping my tumors stable, but I had to discontinue because my neuropathy got too bad. We changed to Gemzar and Abraxane in August 2016. I stayed on that treatment until my scan came back with tumor growth in February 2017. During treatment I had genetic testing but no mutations were found.
Next Step, Clinical Trial
I started a phase I clinical trial that included nivolumab, ipilimumab, and cobimetinib. Dr. Asim Amin, a researcher at Levine Cancer Institute, ran the trial and Bristol-Myers Squibb sponsored. My tumors started shrinking immediately and I stayed on the trial for a year. My side effects were a severe breakout of acne on my face, which was treated with doxycycline, extreme itching, which was treated with steroids, and pneumonitis, which took me off the trial. Even though I was off the trial, my tumors continued shrinking and my tumors can’t be seen on any CT scan! Dr. Hwang is the BEST! He’s the smartest person I know, and he fights for me.
Life After Treatment
I have been off treatment for over a year and every scan has come back clean! I’m 58 years old and feeling great. I feel better than I did before the diagnosis. I’m lifting weights again and running! My quality of life is superb!
I have told this story over and over, but I give my faith in God all the glory for my healing. I don’t know why I was healed, but I do know that my faith has been with me every step of the way, encouraging me, teaching me, and telling me to trust.
I hope and pray that my story gives someone hope. I do “counsel” people who want to be encouraged. So many stage IV patients have been told “Go home and get your affairs in order.” I’m here to say FIGHT!! My trial was approved TWO WEEKS before my tumors started growing with the chemo. A timing miracle! Just stay alive! I know that researchers and doctors are fighting hard for us to be able to live a long, healthy life, so I’m not going to stop fighting, for you and for me . . . ever!