A Hard Road and a Hard Decision
My grandma is 88-years-old.
She often sits in her sky blue rocking chair. Covered in a hand knitted-afghan, while being accompanied by a small space heater at her feet. She has breast cancer for the third time.
In her battle with cancer, she has undergone multiple rounds of both chemotherapy and radiation. Now I can’t express the pain that is endured through these forms of treatment, however, I can describe the frailty I’ve seen in my grandma.
I’ve seen her recline in that same sky blue rocking chair, as pale as the moon and as still as a stone. It can almost seem like cancer is winning, even when it is dying.
So after her third relapse, she decided her small 5-foot-4 frame was no longer interested in the poor return on investment she was receiving from those treatments. She now exclusively is treated through injection therapy.
By moving away from chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she has been able to live with her diagnosis, without feeling as if her life has already been taken from her.
And sometimes in life, that is all we can ask for.
The Future is Personalized
We are at a point in medicine where treatment options are greater than ever before. However, many cures are still being dreamed of. If modern medicine can provide a grandma an enjoyable life with breast cancer, and a grandson the opportunity to watch her smile, then medicine is doing its job.
Clinical research is providing this prolongment to smiles. Recent research done at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Ludwig Institute of Cancer Research in Switzerland, designed a cancer vaccine that can be tailored to a patient’s specific form of cancer.
This vaccine design aims to target the entirety of tumors, versus only segmented portions. This is in an effort to stimulate T cells to help intensify their immune attack on the defensive structure of the specific cancer.
In a small scale clinical trial of 25 people who were treated with this vaccine, of the responders to the treatment, their survival rate was 100 percent with no tumor progression.
One participant in particular showed the potential life enhancement this vaccine can provide. A 46-year-old woman, who had already received five courses of chemotherapy for Stage 4 ovarian cancer, prior to the trial taking place. At stage 4 of ovarian cancer, the five year survival rate is 17 percent. In this study, the patient received 28 doses of a personalized vaccine, spread over 24 months. She remained cancer-free for 5 years.
Closer Every Day
While this form of treatment is in the early forms of infancy, the potential impact is something to be noticed. Often, clinical research is a long game to play, but the work being done even now is changing lives. And the research that has taken place over the past decade is resulting in exciting new clinical trials and new potential treatments that may one day lead to a cure.
So even if a cure for cancer may not be here tomorrow, or the day after that, the prolongment clinical research can provide individuals, even a grandma and grandson, is worth smiling about.