Briggs Sanderson, a writer, producer, and costume designer, was young, beautiful, talented and loved. She also had the unfortunate fate of developing stage IV rectal cancer, diagnosed in April of 2007.
Together Briggs and her husband Paul Sanderson battled her cancer for 15 months. Briggs was treated with chemotherapy to control the growing, inoperable tumor and the metastases in her lungs.
Throughout this terrible journey, Paul did hundreds upon hundreds of hours of research. He had written articles on nutrition in the past and so was used to the process. He emailed with pre-eminent doctors in every specialty about Briggs's condition to try to come up with a way to halt the cancer’s growth and spread.
He discovered that immunotherapy treatments for cancer might be a better path to follow.
Immunotherapies use the immune system to fight the cancer and have increasingly been bringing remissions in advanced cancer cases at such institutions as UCLA, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Hoping Briggs might be one of those cases, he worked tirelessly to try to get an immunotherapeutic vaccine developed by a U.K. biotech company. Its first trial had a high response rate, and two patients with stage IV colorectal cancer had achieved complete remissions.
A major drug company had then bought the rights, but did not continue taking it through clinical trials, so it sat unavailable for use.
Undaunted, Paul started a petition on a U.K. site to get Briggs compassionate access. It was signed by 4,000 people, including actors Susan Sarandon, Alan Rickman and Jimmy Smits.
Paul also called 48 hospitals around the United States to look for a leftover supply from the last trial, because an important contact at the drug company said he'd help facilitate getting it for Briggs if Paul could locate some.
Finally, after a year of trying, Paul heard from the Entertainment Industry Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer that they were arranging for Katie Couric to make a personal appeal to the CEO of the drug company.