Personalized Medicine… The future is here for Judy!

We have all heard that personalized medicine is the future of cancer treatment. Fortunately for some, the future is here now! At the National Breast Cancer Coalition Project LEAD conference last summer, a staff member from the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition met Judy Anderson, a stage 4 breast cancer survivor from Florida. Judy’s incredible story of breast cancer diagnosis, recurrence, treatment, and her experience in a clinical trial is told below. We are amazed that the future of breast cancer treatment is here and Judy has experienced it! We wish her a cancer-free future filled with much happiness!

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Pictured: Judy at the National Breast Cancer Coalition Project Lead conference in San Diego last July 2015.

While President Obama and Vice President Biden are beginning work on a new initiative in the fight against cancer, a Port St. Lucie woman has just returned from the front lines in the battle to cure cancer with some hopeful newsJudy Perkins Anderson has had Stage 4 breast cancer since August, 2013.  She was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 and had a mastectomy.  Since she became metastatic, in the last 2-1/2 years, she has been through numerous treatments including several different hormonal therapies, chemotherapies and targeted therapies.  Last summer, with treatment options running out, she found out about a clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD.  The trial, “Immunotherapy Using Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes for Patients with Metastatic Cancer”, builds on existing immunotherapy that has already shown success with melanoma patients.  This trial expands the patient population to include people with other cancers with solid metastatic tumors.

The theory behind this treatment is that part of our immune system is still trying to fight the cancer.  However, most of our immune system no longer recognizes the cancer as an enemy and is no longer trying to attack it.  Tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) are white blood cells (WBCs) that have penetrated the tumor and are trying to fight the cancer.  They are a small minority of the WBCs in our bodies and do not have sufficient numbers to effectively fight the cancer.

In Mrs. Anderson’s case, she had a tumor removed in August, 2015 to potentially develop her treatment.  Her tumor was cut into 24 pieces and the TIL were watched to see if any of them would attack the cancer.  In four of the 24 pieces, activity was seen.  Subsequently, the active TIL from these four tumor pieces were grown up into an army of about 80 billion T-cells focused only on killing her cancer.  This “selective TIL treatment” was ready for Mrs. Anderson just before Christmas in December, 2015.

Prior to receiving her “TIL army” as Mrs. Anderson calls it, she was given high dose chemotherapy that killed all the other WBCs in her system.  This way, when the selective TIL treatment was infused, the only target was the cancer cells.  With time, her bone marrow will regenerate the other WBCs which are an integral part of our normal immunity that fights infections and disease.

Mrs. Anderson returned home on New Year’s Day 2016 and has been recovering from the TIL treatment which can be, in her words, “a grueling affair”.  Amazingly, she reports that more than half a dozen tumors that she could feel in her chest have “melted away”.  She has stopped all pain medications that she had been taking to control the pain from the cancer.  Her doctors at NIH are already very optimistic saying that such a rapid response is unusual.  Mrs. Anderson will get scans in early February that will confirm what she already knows, that she is heading for a remission.  How long it will last, remains to be seen.  But, for other patients that have responded, sometimes the remissions have lasted a long time.  Until there is evidence to the contrary, Mrs. Anderson is resuming life without cancer and beginning once again to plan for the future.

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Pictured: the Olive study group at Project Lead in July 2015. Judy is on the right, standing next to DBCC staff member, Beth Krallis.

What do you think after reading about Judy’s experience? What questions do you have about TIL treatment and cancer fighting of the future? What do you wish you knew earlier or want to know now about clinical trials?

If you would like to find out more about participating in a clinic trial or becoming involved with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s Clinical Trials Mentoring Initiative, please contact Beth. Researchers and the medical community recognize the need for trained advocates and their support role to the clinical trials process. Without participants, research outcomes are limited.

If you want to learn more about the science of breast cancer and Project LEAD, please visit the National Breast Cancer Coalition website.

 

Survivor Spotlight: Lori Holveck

Lori Holveck was first diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years ago, at the age of 31. Her daughter was 3 years old and her son was 6 months. She had a double mastectomy, 6 rounds of chemotherapy, and 31 treatments of chest wall radiation. However in August 2015, Lori was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver, lungs, bones, and brain. She will be on chemotherapy for the rest of her life. But Lori is a fighter and she doesn’t let this bring her or her family down.

Lori is fortunate to have a wonderful network of family members, friends, and coworkers who provide her with love and care. But she also relies on the support of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. A phone call from a Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition survivorship staff member, the guidance of a Peer Mentor, or the comradery that comes from a Young Survivor in Action program, all help Lori to know that she’s not alone.

Lori is one special lady and we are lucky to know her. DBCC is proud to call Lori a friend and feature her in the survivor spotlight for sharing her story with others!

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Photo Credit: Montgomery/Ford Photography

Survivor Spotlight: Lisa Welling

Breast cancer survivor Lisa Welling celebrated her last Chemo treatment at Beebe Tunnell’s Cancer Center on October 23. She and her son just took a much deserved vacation to North Carolina to celebrate being cancer free!

Like hundreds of other women in Delaware who will be newly diagnosed this year, Lisa knows breast cancer isn’t easy. You don’t just bounce back. She was under the assumption that she’d have a double mastectomy and be back to work in a month. That was not the case. She was and still is in a lot of pain.

Now Lisa is ready to give back. Her advise to others, “ask for help”. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to cancer. And a lot of other women have been through this experience before. Lisa wants women to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And as Lisa says, “life is good”. DBCC is proud to honor Lisa in the Survivor Spotlight!

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with breast cancer, the Delaware Breast Cancer Cancer can help. Call us at 302-778-1102 to speak to a peer mentor, get involved in a survivorship program, and learn how we can be a resource to you and your loved ones.
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Hispanic Heritage Month Featuring: Grettel Huber

Grettel Huber is 51 years old and was born in Costa Rica. She has lived in the United States for half her life and is now a proud citizen. She is a divorced, single mother of a 21 year old amazing daughter, a Dean’s List Student at UD!

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Grettel was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in October of 2010. That day was probably the saddest day of her life – for about 3 hours only! It didn’t last long because she decided that with the help of God, her life would be a positive and healthy one. She had a series of biopsies and the week before Christmas her chemotherapy began. It lasted 16 weeks. Christmas day of 2010 she began losing her hair. Of her hair Grettel says, “it was one of my best attributes and still is!”

When Grettel began losing her hair she decided to call a friend who is a hair dresser. She came her to home and cut it short (not bald) instead of waiting for it to fall out. Surprisingly, it didn’t fall out completely, but she wore wigs to work in the interim. Grettel actually had fun with the wigs, and why not… some women wear them for fun!

Another surprise was that Grettel didn’t get sick with her chemo sessions. Instead, she got insomnia. So, the days that she had her 5-hour chemo sessions (always on a Friday), she went out with friends and danced all night long. Grettel also went to the gym 5 times a week and did pretty hard cardio. Her belief was – the stronger I made the blood run through my veins, the faster the Cancer would be eliminated. This was Grettel’s theory only, but one of her Oncologist loved it, too.

In April of 2011, Grettel had her Lumpectomy, which came back clear! As Grettel says, “No Cancer, God is amazing!”. Lymph Nodes were also clear. About a week later her radiation sessions began. She was told that the skin around her breast would burn, but it didn’t happen. Grettel jokes, “I sure got a tan! I wanted to tan the other breast but the radiologist didn’t allow me…”

Grettel’s cancer was “a blessing in disguise”. It made her see how precious life is, that people really do care, and it made her appreciate her family and friends much more. She began telling everyone how much she loves them. She felt God with her even more. Grettel says, “He is always with us, at ALL times. I know God has more things for me to do in this beautiful world.  Cancer touches us deeply in a way that no one else can understand.”

DBCC is pleased to recognize Grettel Huber for Hispanic Heritage Month and share her message of gratitude and survivorship with our community!

As Grettel says, “Life is wonderful, four years cancer free; living each day to the fullest – helping others and loving everyone.”

Hispanic Heritage Month Featuring: Laura Gendreau

Laura’s mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 ductal carcinoma at age 46 and she lost battle with breast cancer shortly before her 48th birthday. Laura isn’t aware of any other family members who had breast cancer because her mother lost her family connections when she immigrated from Chile to the United States as a teen.

When Laura was diagnosed with breast cancer she was lucky to get support but culturally. Hispanic women do not always discuss health issues which is why Laura is so open to it today. She received tremendous support once she revealed what was happening to her.

Laura’s message is simple: “As Latina women we tend to take care of our families, our communities and our friends before we take care of ourselves. Preventative care and regular breast screenings saves lives. If my mother had gone for her regular screenings it could have saved her life but she didn’t and we lost her but she did save my life by insisting I go get checked and I did.”

For Hispanic heritage month, DBCC is proud to honor Laura and share her message of early detection with our community!

If you or someone you know is in need of a mammogram, call 1-888-672-9647 today.

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Hispanic Heritage Month Featuring: Elsa Rodriguez-Trejo

Elsa didn’t have any family history of breast cancer. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She and her husband, Jose, moved to Pennsylvania when she was just 28 years old with their two young daughters. Jose’s job as an engineer brought them to the United States for two years. Elsa had studied English in school but living here was not the same. She felt isolated and gravitated towards friends that spoke Spanish or that she met by chance.Elsa Photo

After two years, the political situation in Argentina was very bad. Elsa and Jose moved back to Argentina in 1978 and stayed for 11 months but it didn’t work out. The second time she came to the United States, she knew she was going to stay. Her attitude changed and she was more open to friendships. She became a secondary math teacher and got involved in the local Catholic Church. Her network expanded.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, Elsa had these groups of new friends and colleagues, an extended family of sorts, to support her through her journey. 11 years later, Elsa is retired and lives in Millsboro, DE.  She is now a bilingual volunteer with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.

According to Elsa, one problem for a newly diagnosed women is that she doesn’t speak the language. Another problem is she may have a limited support system, not only monetarily but also having the support community. In the Hispanic community, family is very important. When you have very few people around and they are as scared as you, and they don’t have all the medical information, and you cannot understand the doctors, it can be very scary and isolating!

Elsa shares this personal story with all of the newly diagnosed women she mentors. She becomes a little part of their world and their family. She acts as a friend and a teacher. If they need her to come to the doctor, she will join them. She can support them emotionally. The fact that after 11 years she hasn’t had a recurrence and she’s still here and there are other survivors, it becomes an assurance for them.

Some women need a lot of support, and some don’t but Elsa will help them in any way she can. There was one woman who did not speak English and would go to the cancer center with her daughter, who spoke English, but she would immediately cry when she entered. It was difficult for the staff to communicate what was going on. After DBCC intervened, Elsa joined the woman for her next appointment. As soon as she saw Elsa, they started talking and Elsa understood that the problem was she felt completely out of control of what was going on. And this was the first time she could communicate and didn’t cry. And after that, she no longer needed Elsa’s support. Some of the other mentees have become good friends with Elsa.

Join Breast Cancer Survivor Laura Ferguson at the Race for the Pink Ribbon on 9/10!

Please join two time breast cancer survivor Laura Ferguson of Newark, Delaware, for the Race for the Pink Ribbon 5K Run Walk to benefit the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition on September 10 on the Wilmington Riverfront.

“Throughout all of my struggles, I’ve always been a runner and that’s always been something important in my life,” says Laura. “It’s taken on different stages throughout my battles with breast cancer, where there were times that I couldn’t even get up off the couch due to all the different surgeries and things. But running has always been something that helps me stay calm, focused and kind of get my thoughts together when I’m out on a run or even walking with some friends.”

 The proceeds raised at the Race for the Pink Ribbon will support local women and men affected by breast cancer like Laura. Join us to help provide Peer Mentor Support, Beginning Your Breast Cancer Journey Classes, fellowship activities like Survivor Socials, Nurture with Nature and Young Survivors in Action to those affected by breast cancer in our community. Visit our website to register today!

Register Today!