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Unusual responder to therapy helps others

Annual Report - Winter 2013

By Laura Sussman

A half-marathon runner with a thriving career in the medical field, Rachel Midgett didn’t have breast cancer on her radar when she was diagnosed with metastatic disease at just 37 years young.

Rather, she and her husband, Clint, were trying to start a family. After her first round of fertility treatments and a miscarriage, they soon tried again when she noticed a cyst in her left breast. A mammogram confirmed the stunning diagnosis.

Rachel Midgett
Photo: Wyatt McSpadden

“I was in shock,” Midgett says. “I couldn’t understand how it could happen when I was so healthy. I instantly felt this fear of the unknown.”

When she referred herself to MD Anderson, she was paired with Jennifer Litton, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology, whose research focuses on young women with breast cancer.

“You have emotional ups and downs and go through so much with your doctor,” Midgett explains. “Dr. Litton is always fighting for me. We feed off each other. My husband says watching us together is like watching a great tennis match.”

Sharing her blessings

Midgett has endured myriad regimens — both standard therapies and clinical trials. One trial included everolimus, a then-investigational drug now approved for metastatic breast cancer. Midgett’s response was nothing short of dramatic: Almost immediately, her liver lesions shrunk by more than 50%. She continued on the trial for more than a year before they started to grow.

Despite the progression, that initial dramatic response and the contained nature of the metastasis made her eligible for one of her next therapies: a liver resection.

MD Anderson’s Steven Curley, M.D., professor in the Department of Surgical Oncology, removed her metastatic lesions and the majority of the organ. This procedure is still rare, but becoming increasingly common for stage IV breast cancer patients.

Time will tell what her long-term response will be. Still, Midgett feels blessed to have been a candidate for such an opportunity.

She’s also grateful to live minutes from MD Anderson, as many travel from all over the world for care at the institution. With such travel can come emotional and financial hardship, so she and her husband bought an apartment close by and started a foundation, Suites of Hope.

“Suites of Hope will allow breast cancer patients to stay free with their families while undergoing a clinical trial at MD Anderson,” she says. “I see women with their suitcases and hear them worried about flights or hotel costs, and I just want to help.”

Unusual responder: Erin Bond

By Julie Penne

She’s an enthusiastic young professional, a vocal advocate for sun protection before her diagnosis, a fun-loving 26-year-old living in the St. Louis area — and now, an unusual responder.

Erin Bond
Photo: John Everett

In 2008, while a senior at Eastern Illinois University, Erin Bond was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. After surgery and chemotherapy, she came to MD Anderson to investigate new options to stop her disease from progressing.

She was enrolled in a trial through MD Anderson’s Center for Targeted Therapy, and her care team has been pleasantly surprised with her great progress during the past three years.

While they’re not sure why she’s doing so well with two daily pills, Bond’s team learns from patients who buck expectations.

Regardless of the reasons, Bond will take the result.

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