Braking Bad: Using Immunotherapy to Fight Hodgkin Lymphoma

By taking the brakes off immune response, immunotherapy empowers the body to fight resistant or recurrent classical Hodgkin lymphoma.
HEATHER MILLAR
PUBLISHED: OCTOBER 19, 2016
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“I have so much
energy now! I never
imagined that
any of this would
be possible. I’m
very grateful that
I was able to get
nivolumab when
I did.” <br><br>
— ARIELLA CHIVIL ,
patient with Hodgkin lymphoma
I have so much energy now! I never imagined that any of this would be possible. I’m very grateful that I was able to get nivolumab when I did.”
 — ARIELLA CHIVIL , patient with Hodgkin lymphoma
Ariella Chivil was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in the summer of 2010, just before her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the next four years, Chivil found that her disease was resistant to treatment as she went through 14 different protocols: multiple chemotherapy combinations, targeted therapies, radiation and clinical trials. She would experience most kinds of cancer treatment misery: nausea, crushing fatigue, difficulty eating and walking, weight loss, bowel obstructions, swelling, infections, surgeries and pain so severe it broke through massive doses of OxyContin. Finally, with few options left, Chivil’s hematology team put her on a harrowing “salvage” chemotherapy regimen. Yet just a few weeks later, a scan showed new tumor activity.

Then doctors suggested that Chivil try a new immunotherapy agent, Opdivo (nivolumab). The drug targets molecules that serve as a brake (or checkpoint) on the immune response — a process that normally keeps the immune system from becoming overactive, but which tumor cells may use to avoid immunological detection. By blocking these molecules, Opdivo unleashes the body’s full anti-cancer response.

In the past few years, Opdivo has gained U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals for the treatment of melanoma, lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma and most recently Hodgkin lymphoma, but when Chivil first tried it, the drug was still experimental for people with her disease. After trying so many treatments with little luck, Chivil says she was skeptical at first. But a few weeks after the first infusion, she began to feel better. As the weeks and months passed, she got stronger and stronger. After 18 months, doctors felt she was well enough to stop the infusions and adopt a “watch and wait” strategy. Now three years after that first infusion, Chivil enjoys the life of a normal 26-year-old: working for a medical technology firm, doing yoga, thinking about the future.

“I have so much energy now! I never imagined that any of this would be possible,” Chivil says. “I’m very grateful that I was able to get nivolumab when I did.”



Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Lymphoma Cancer CURE discussion group.
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