Experimental Treatment Gives Terminal Breast Cancer Patient a New Lease on Life by Jessica Acree

5 years ago

Experimental Treatment Gives Terminal Breast Cancer Patient a New Lease on Life

You have terminal stage IV cancer. It's a diagnosis no one ever wants to hear. At 47 years old, Judy Perkins was told she had three years to live. Three years to spend with her husband and their two sons. Three years to create new memories in between chemo and hormone therapy before illness would write her final chapter.

Over a decade earlier, Perkins had a little scare. Pre-cancer. She had a mastectomy to remove her left breast and everything seemed fine. That is, until it came back with a vengeance and in new places. The disease was now known as "metastatic cancer" and the outlook was not good.

In an article published by Women's Health, Perkins explains that after fighting hard and not seeing results, she was basically ready to give up. Eventually she reached the place where hope fizzles out and acceptance of mortality becomes your only option.

An invitation to try immunotherapy would arrive just in the nick of time. It was a roll of the dice through a clinical trial, but at this point she had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The National Cancer Institute says immunotherapies are changing the landscape of cancer treatment by "empowering a patient's immune system to attack difficult-to-treat cancers, often leading to complete disappearance of tumors." 

It proved to be the hardest part of Perkins' journey. "The side effects were rough though. I was lethargic, fatigued and dealing with pain medications that were first making me constipated and then giving me diarrhea. At one point, I had the shivers so badly they had to give me a muscle relaxant."

But it worked! Her tumors were shrinking at an alarming rate, shocking even."I didn’t feel pain anymore, so I quit my pain meds cold turkey. I remember being happy in January just to walk around the block with my husband again..."

In May 2016, doctors gave Perkins a clean bill of health. The cancer was gone and they feel confident it will stay that way. Perkins knows she's lucky. She lost two friends who received the same golden ticket when it failed to work for them.

"I’m very much the exception – which is strange because I was preparing to die. My life was on hold, and I had a suddenly empty plate. Now, I’m trying to be thoughtful about filling that time back up again." 

Researchers know every second counts. They're working around the clock to develop immunotherapies that work for more people, so there are more stories like this to share. 

Learn more or support Perkins' favorite cancer research charity.

Photo: Women's Health Magazine

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Jessica Acree
It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to stare at death’s door like that... we need more happy endings like this!

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