Clinical trial makes grandfather two-time lymphoma survivor
Jerry McLeary can recall the exact moment he just knew that his journey with a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma would end happily.
He was driving down the road with his wife when he smelled a skunk. When he asked her if she smelled it, she replied, “Yeah, isn’t that terrible?”
“No, it smells good to me,” Jerry remembers saying.
About a year earlier, Jerry had suddenly lost his sense of smell and taste, and the ability to breathe through his nose. He’d also developed a rash all over his body. At first, doctors in Tennessee, where he lives, thought allergies were to blame. But after months of treatment and no improvement, a CT scan finally shed light on the real problem.
“They found a mass almost right between my eyes. A biopsy showed I had mantle cell lymphoma. They hooked me up with an oncologist in Jackson, Tennessee, but he recommended I get a second opinion at MD Anderson,” he says.
A second opinion for mantle cell lymphoma
In December 2006, Jerry and his wife made their way down to Houston and met with Michael Wang, M.D.
“Dr. Wang told me right on the front end, ‘You’re a very sick man. You must do what I say do,’ and I said, ‘Hey buddy, I’m with you. Let’s go!’” Jerry recalls.
Wang allowed Jerry to undergo chemotherapy in Tennessee under his direction. It took just one round for Jerry to regain his sense of smell.
“I was amazed to have my nose back that quick,” he says.
The good news kept coming. By the end of his fourth chemo session, Jerry showed no evidence of disease, though he underwent two more rounds to complete his treatment course.
“I never got sick and the nurses were just amazed at how I handled the chemo,” he says. “I walked, walked, walked every day. I think that had a big part of my recovery – just staying busy.”
Clinical trial offers hope after mantle cell lymphoma recurrence
Jerry continued to have clear scans for nine years. Then, during his annual visit in December 2015, he learned his lymphoma had returned.
Dr. Wang gave him several options, but Jerry agreed to Dr. Wang’s top choice: a clinical trial studying whether an oral chemotherapy drug known as ACP-196, or acalabrutinib, can help control mantle cell lymphoma.
“Dr. Wang wanted me in a clinical trial because he felt I’d be a good patient for it. I trust him with my life and I knew that he wanted what was best for me,” Jerry says.
As part of the trial, Jerry took the medication twice a day and kept a daily journal documenting any changes. He was told to expect severe headaches, but he never had any or experienced any other side effects. He went into remission less than a year after starting treatment.
Staying on a mantle cell lymphomaclinical trial
Jerry has opted to remain enrolled in the clinical trial. He plans to continue taking this medication for the rest of his life and returning to MD Anderson every three months for CT scans.
For him, that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.
“I want to stay here awhile,” he says. “Cancer makes you realize what you have and what you have to live for. I have some grandchildren, and I want to see them grow up.”