Working day in and day out in the healthcare communications field, I often see the agony and ecstasy of drug development. A common scenario: promising results in Phase 2– only for the compound to fail in later stage trials. Alternatively, I’ve seen many breakthrough drugs come to market as “game changers,” “paradigm-shifters” or even “the magic bullet” (i.e., Avandia, Celebrex and Meridia), only to later get pulled from the market due to safety issues. Within this backdrop, sometimes it’s the older, less sexy and often more toxic, standard of care drugs – particularly in the cancer field – that can be the unsung heroes chipping away at the Big C.
I have personally seen this through my Mom’s experience successfully keeping pancreatic cancer at bay. Yes, you read that right – I did say pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed more than three years ago after enduring unexplained lower back pain that just wouldn’t quit, Ruth was diagnosed at Stage 1 – pretty unheard of in pancreatic cancer – and was a candidate for the Whipple procedure – where parts of your lower intestine, pancreas and stomach are removed to “cure” the cancer. Following the surgery, she underwent aggressive radiation and chemotherapy with a combination of Gemzar (that would be the old, unsexy chemo) and slightly newer Xeloda. All was well for almost two years until the expected happened – the cancer spread to her liver last May – immediately following a wonderful family cruise to celebrate Mom’s 75th birthday.
Cue the Gemzar please. Immediately following this news, my siblings and I went into “research” mode and discussed some options with her doctor. We evaluated Tarceva – a relatively new targeted therapy- as well as a host of innovative and experimental options. Given Mom’s incredible tolerance of Gemzar during her first go-around (no hair loss, no nausea, minor fatigue that never stopped her from walking her 3 miles a day) and its past effectiveness – we opted to give it another try. This past May, we celebrated her 76th birthday – something we never thought possible last year. We’re now planning for Thanksgiving, Hanukah and Christmas celebrations – holidays we never imagined having together again.
I am a huge proponent of innovation in cancer therapy and believe many of the recent breakthroughs in prostate cancer, melanoma and non-hodgkins lymphoma will be welcome additions to doctors, patients and their families. In the backdrop of these innovations, it’s comforting to know that some of the mainstays of therapy that have “past their prime” in the public or media eyes can have a profound impact on people’s lives. For my Mom and our family, it’s allowed us to enjoy everyday pleasures, celebrations and unexpected moments we never dreamed possible with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
Have you experienced unexpected results or hope with older therapies? I’d love to hear your story.