20 stars including Bradley Cooper, Naomi Watts, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, and Rob Lowe have signed a petition in my wife Briggs's memory to bring the treatment immunotherapy to the forefront of cancer. Director Ken Burns, journalist Meredith Vieira, and tennis legends Billie Jean King and Chris Evert have added their names. And notable recent signatories from the medical and health worlds include Dr. James P. Allison, Chair of Immunology at MD Anderson, and Michelle King Robson, Founder and Chairman of EmpowHER. Dr. Allison is also Leader of Stand Up To Cancer's dream team of doctors in Immunology, and actor Mark Harmon recently did a PSA for Stand Up to Cancer to help build awareness of immunotherapy.
The call in the petition is for pharmaceutical companies, cancer organizations, and governments to reorient the primary direction of cancer treatment, research, and funding to immunotherapeutic vaccines. These are curative rather than preventive vaccines. They use the body's immune system to fight cancer and are succeeding in cases where all other treatment has failed. And they have none of the serious side effects, nor secondary cancers, of chemotherapy and radiation. This is the link to the petition on Change.org: http://www.change.org/petitions/petition-for-briggs-for-cancer-immunotherapy-for-all. The other stars who've signed are listed in it.
I had written articles on nutrition in the past, and once Briggs was diagnosed I began hundreds upon hundreds of hours of research in every aspect of cancer. The vaccines are considered "active" immunotherapy because they directly target, e.g., particular proteins on tumors. The protein is isolated, then loaded into a patient's white cells, from a simple blood draw, and injected back into the body. The immune system is then alerted to that protein as a foreign presence and knows to go after the cancer cells. It was simply previously unaware of them, part of the mechanism of how cancer survives.
I'd been pursuing an immunotherapy for Briggs that was developed out of a prominent British university. It had been curing stage IV colorectal patients in trials going back to 2001. But the rights had been bought by a major European pharmaceutical company and I couldn't get access to it. I had finally gotten word that arrangements were being made for Katie Couric to make a personal appeal to the CEO of the company. Just four days later, I lost Briggs to complications brought on in what was meant to be a short hospital stay.
Briggs, a writer-producer-designer, had been making notes to write a book to help other patients and caregivers with all we'd learned. I didn't think for a minute that I'd end up writing it in her memory. Incorporating a lot of her notes, I also made it about Briggs herself and our romance, both before and during cancer, and called it "BRIGGS: Love, Cancer, and the Medical Profession" (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0089PD2EO). In it, I talk about immunotherapy being a potential cure in all solid-tumor cancers including breast, lung, cervical, prostate, ovarian, renal, esophageal, and skin.
Since 2003, it's been used to cure grade IV brain cancer at UCLA. It's brought a complete remission in stage IV pancreatic cancer at Germany's venerable University of Würzburg, where the X ray was discovered. That was in 2006, years before Patrick Swayze and then Steve Jobs died of it. (And the first thing it cleared up was the patient's liver metastases versus Steve Jobs having had a liver transplant.) And now it's also worked with acute leukemia; in 2012, at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. All other treatment had failed with a 7-year-old girl and she was considered terminal, but she was disease-free within a little more than a week.
But immunotherapy is far from new. For decades, from the 1890s, it was used to cure hundreds of cases of sarcoma, including the hopelessly terminal, at the hospitals that would become New York-Presbyterian and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. It's finally come full circle after so many wasted decades. This year at Sloan-Kettering, five adults with acute leukemia were treated with immunotherapy, and all five of them went into complete remission. It's the hardest thing to live with, knowing that the treatment was there that could have saved Briggs. I failed her in not getting it for her in time. (There's a photo of her on the petition page. The link again is http://www.change.org/petitions/petition-for-briggs-for-cancer-immunotherapy-for-all.)
In Briggs's memory, this can begin stopping the harm, death, and loss from cancer and cancer treatments within years instead of decades. I hope you'll add your name to the call in the petition and help me spread the word. I keep thinking there's that first person with terminal cancer who's going to be saved as soon as the petition can grab enough attention in the world. And if it's a woman, maybe her husband is living in quiet desperation for her right at this moment.
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