Clinical trials are not for everybody and are not always successful. It is, after all, a trial. But for me, entering a clinical trial when I had an aggressive recurrence of ovarian cancer, it was the right choice. Admittedly, I entered the trial with little expectation of success, but I was so wrong.
My trial drug was a monoclonal antibody drug that works by turning on the “suicide” switch, a process called apoptosis. Healthy cells know when to die, but cancer cells go awry and keep growing uncontrollably, building tumors that eventually kill the host. I was "hosting" seven new tumors (four on the liver) and standard treatments were no longer working.
I was nervous about testing a unproven drug, especially at Phase I - the first time it was tried on humans. What new thing might grow as a result? Could I end up worse than with my current problem? However, consulting with several oncologists about my options and by gaining an understanding of how monoclonal antibodies function, I entered the trial.
In all the years I’ve dealt with cancer treatments, this was the easiest experience. I was not ill during treatment, experienced virtually no side effects. I was examined more closely than I ever have been; essentially every orifice and bodily function was monitored with great interest by the researchers. Most importantly, several tumors disappeared after a few weeks, while the remainder became necrotic with no signs of life for two years.
Did it cure my cancer? No. But it bought me more time; time without painful treatments, a holiday of sorts from a long, difficult cancer journey.
Not every trial is this successful. In fact, other patients on the same drug did not have the same response, but I know that clinical trials are another weapon in the arsenal that helps me stay alive.
For more information, go to the National Institutes of Health website: www.clinicaltrials.gov.