It's quite a shock to hear you have melanoma when you're 24 years old, married, with a 3-year-old daughter.
In 1958, it happened to Janet, now a retired registered nurse and Sun City resident. Doctors removed the early-stage cancer on her right calf, but a year later, it recurred in lymph nodes in her groin. Doctors also removed them.
For the next 50 years, Janet lived her life cancer-free, if not worry-free. "I don't think they really had anything in those years to treat it anyway," she said.
In 2009, the cancer unfortunately returned. This time it was stage IV, the most serious, and appeared in her bladder and liver. She underwent chemo to battle it, but it soon appeared in her brain and adrenal gland. Doctors used radiation to treat it in her brain.
Searching for hope, Janet took her chemotherapy nurse's advice to look for a clinical trial. One matched her perfectly at the HonorHealth Research Institute. Thanks to an investigational chemotherapy drug delivered through a port in her chest, the metastasis in her bladder, brain, liver and adrenal gland began shrinking in 2010.
In 2015, institute staff wanted to see why the drug was working so well for her. They also wanted to see if it could benefit other patients with similar cases of melanoma. Institute researchers tracked down the Royal Oak, Mich., hospital where Janet had treatment in 1958 and discovered that the facility still had Janet's tumor sample from that year.
The HonorHealth Research Institute and the drug company submitted the sample to TGen for genomic sequencing. As Michael Gordon, MD, Janet's medical oncologist at the institute said, "We work hard to understand how to connect the right drug with the right patient."
The information from Janet's genomic sequencing has prompted further research for treating similar cases of melanoma with brain metastasis.
Celebrating Janet's success
Janet continues to do well. A recent CT scan showed no cancer in her chest, abdomen or pelvis. To celebrate her persistence and success with the long-running clinical trial, institute staff threw her a party on Jan. 9, 2018. The date marked her 100th treatment cycle (each cycle is 28 days).
"It's pretty incredible," said Katie Marceau, RN, an institute research nurse who works closely with Janet. "A brain MRI in October 2017 showed a tiny spot, but that might be scar tissue from the radiation done years ago. There's no cancer that we can see!"
Janet's grateful for having found the clinical trial that's helped her beat back her cancer. She comes to the institute once a week for three weeks, then takes a week off. "I could perhaps stop the trial at this point, but I'm taking the advice of the institute staff and staying with it," she said. "They've all been wonderful."
Meanwhile, Janet's happy she hasn't had any serious side effects from the drug used in her trial. "I feel pretty good," the great grandmother said. "The fatigue's not too bad. I really feel very blessed."
Janet's helped a lot of other patients over the years by providing advice and support as they embark on their own clinical trials, Katie noted. "Everyone here knows and admires her," she said. "I know she's grateful that her clinical trial has given her more time to spend with her family to attend weddings and meet great-grandchildren."