There’s Always Hope After an ‘Incurable’ Cancer Diagnosis, Thanks to Devoted Researchers

A cancer survivor explains how the new treatments coming out for all types of cancer give her hope. “If we are diagnosed today, a cure or remission may come out next week or next month, or next year to give us additional time to live,” she writes.

When I was initially diagnosed with my cancer, the oncologist told me the average span of life was 104 months. As I reached for my friend’s hand in shock and the room whirled around me, I recall her saying that new treatments were coming out all the time.

I did not believe her because I was so distraught. However, 11 years later (yes I beat the odds) I realize she was right. I have seen several new drugs for my unique type of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) being approved by the FDA, with the most recent one being Reblozyl (luspatercept). So far I have not needed it, but my oncologist told me she would put it in her back pocket in case I need it.How reassuring is that!

I have been reading articles in CURE® and other resources about treatments I never even heard about years ago, including targeted therapy, immunotherapy, radiopharmaceuticals that deliver radiation therapy directly to cancer cells and several other therapies that I have left out. I know there are more than what I mentioned and it is almost impossible to keep up with all of them. The point I am making is that the days of offering only the three options of surgery, radiation or chemo are over.

On my first trip to the Cleveland Clinic, I signed up to be a part of a genetic study that was being used to determine if children or other family members were predisposed to my type of cancer. I do not have children, but wanted the information for my nieces and nephews. It was fascinating to me that now not only can cancer be treated differently, but the predisposition to it can often be determined. How much better it is to be able to watch for the manifestation of any cancer and diagnose it early for treatment, than to wait until it is too late.The tests determined that my type of cancer was not hereditary, but did find out that all my red cancer cells mutated at the same time, which is important to know in future treatment protocols.

In browsing through articles, I even found that a company was using genomic testing to identity possible cancer-causing mutations, and then use targeted therapy for dogs! All of us who love our canine companions can know what this means.

I was having bone marrow biopsies twice a year and had at least 15 of them up until COVID-19. The expense wiped out my savings, not to mention the inconvenience and discomfort. Imagine my delight when my oncologist broke the news to me that now a blood test replaced the need for a bone marrow biopsy! I did not even mind watching the eight vials of blood being taken off out of my arm and shipped off to the lab. The report I received later on the blood work reported that the FDA had approved these blood tests for clinical use, but not for a research protocol. I know there is more to come.

I am amazed at the stories I hear about cancer survivors who would have died if their cancer had been diagnosed even a decade ago. When I was first diagnosed in 2010, an oncologist from Case Western University Hospital told me that 10 years ago this disease would have been a death sentence and now they had drugs to treat it so I could live longer. Obviously, she was right.

Read more: Gleevec: A 'Miracle Drug' for Some Patients With Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Do not get me wrong. I am not naïve to think that cancer can’t be fatal and mourn the friends and family I have lost. However, I think I can say honestly that I celebrate living in 2021. There is much more research available and treatments being administered than ever before. For people like me with incurable cancer, scientists are working around the clock to not cure me, but give me several more years of life. We can take heart in this. If we are diagnosed today, a cure or remission may come out next week or next month, or next year to give us additional time to live. That gives us hope and we can cherish it.

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