Finding the Cancer Cure: Believing the Unbelievable

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Having faith and being patient in a field that is on the cusp of many wonderous things

When I began to realize that I wanted to be an oncology nurse, I began to study the history of oncology. Something that I learned fairly quickly is that because the field of oncological medicine can be so uncertain, we often seek out the tangible. While that can be a good thing, I also think that it can a be a bad thing. Oncology has come so far from when the study of cancer began, and we continue to make advancements that many once thought to be impossible.

Just recently, we began to see CAR T-cell treatments be approved by the FDA. These treatments had been given the green light in the UK roughly four years ago and have had remarkable success. We are always talking about immunologics and I think it is easily forgotten that 10 years ago that word, along with monoclonal, were mere whispers within this field.

Going closer to home, my sister was lucky enough to receive the drug Opdivio (nivolumab) at a time when the FDA was staunchly opposed to the use in Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients, stating that not enough data was available. The FDA has recently granted approval for some blood cancers, and is seeking to expand its use, specifically in patients like my sister who have failed baseline chemotherapy in combination with brentuximab. Yet, when she was diagnosed, neither drug was known to the public.

Thanks in part to initiatives that the public has taken notice of, such as the Cancer Moonshot bill by former Vice President Biden, I feel that many more people are self-advocating for new treatment options. Because of the aforementioned Moonshot initiative, we have also seen sharing and openness between companies that has never occurred.

That sharing has also has included the data of drug trails that often gets overlooked because they are written off as failures. In actuality, that data is invaluable. To succeed, you must try and with trying comes failure. We get to study that data and learn from it. What did not work alone, or when mixed with another drug may not mean a cure. That does not mean that it can not produce highly valued data that we can apply to secondary studies.

More than anything, I think what we all need is to try and set aside realism. As I have come to know many teachers, professors, researchers, nurses and doctors in oncology, I know that may seem impossible to do. But we need to remember to dream. To reach for the impossible and look past today. We are all seeking a cure, something that was once long considered an impossibility. Yet still, all of us chose this field anyway. Thus meaning, at one point or another, we dreamt the unimaginable.

We consistently ask the patients to have faith and trust, to follow along as they endure treatments and hope that what we are doing will lead to a sometimes very elusive remission. But I think what many forget is that what is being asked of them, that is what those of us who work in the field need to be practicing. We need to set aside analytics and data to believe the often unbelievable.