"Cutting-Edge Science Saved My Life!"
In 2000, Margie G.'s gynecologist felt a lump in her left breast during an annual checkup. It turned out the 45-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, FL, had Stage II cancer. After a bilateral mastectomy, she had four rounds of chemotherapy.
Soon afterward, Margie was in remission. She was monitored annually with blood work and PET scans. Then, in 2008, a blood test revealed that her level of CEA, a marker for early-stage tumors, was rising. A follow-up PET scan confirmed a tumor on her breastbone. "I didn't have time to panic," she says. "I told myself I had to face this head-on."
Although Margie could have been treated with standard chemo, her oncologist suggested she participate in a local clinical trial. She met the criteria—breast cancer patients with a first recurrence—for a Phase II study, in which a new treatment is given to a large group of people to evaluate its safety and effectiveness. In the trial, all the women were given a standard chemo drug and a new one; those with a certain type of tumor received a third medication. Because the new drug had already been approved to treat lung cancer, and had proven effective, Margie's oncologist felt it might give her a good shot at survival. She didn't hesitate to sign up. "I knew many lung cancer survivors who had taken the new drug," she explains. "All I heard was that it worked miracles."
The chemo sessions took place once every three weeks and lasted about five to six hours. During the clinical trial, Margie gave researchers permission to review her medical records and answered numerous questions. Her least favorite part of the trial was the extra scans. To check for bleeding in the brain (a possible side effect of the experimental drug), she received a brain MRI three times. To see if the treatment was working, she received three chest PET scans. The drugs were free, but Margie's insurer was billed for the scans.
After the second treatment, Margie learned the cancer was shrinking. Even though the trial called for eight chemo sessions, Margie was able to leave the trial after six rounds. She was excited to learn that she'd had a "complete response" to the medication.
Today, Margie receives medication every three weeks to prevent the cancer from returning again. She feels fortunate that she was able to take part in the study. "Cancer is not a death sentence, and I'm living proof."