March 29, 2023
Immunotherapy clinical trial puts stage IV kidney cancer into remission
BY Sarah Zizinia
From 2013 to 2015, Mike Headley and his wife, Betty, kicked off their retirement by traveling to 30 states in their RV. When the couple returned home to Houston for the holidays at the end of 2015, Mike decided to make an appointment with his primary care physician before they got on the road again. He had pain in his left hip that was bothering him.
Mike’s doctor ordered an MRI and noticed a mass in his kidney area and another on his left hip. The doctor suspected Mike had kidney cancer and recommended making an appointment with an oncologist.
“We knew I should request an appointment at MD Anderson,” says Mike. “We’re from Houston and knew of its reputation as a leader in cancer care.”
Cancer-free after an immunotherapy clinical trial
At MD Anderson, Nizar Tannir, M.D., confirmed Mike’s diagnosis: stage IV clear cell renal carcinoma. Tannir offered Mike the opportunity to join an immunotherapy clinical trial, led by Jianjun Gao, M.D.
“We knew there were no guarantees, but we felt like we were at the best place we could be at MD Anderson,” recalls Mike. “I felt like it was worth it to take the chance and try the trial.”
After three infusions of the clinical trial drugs, the late urologic oncologist Christopher Wood, M.D., removed Mike’s kidney. Less than a month later, Mike felt well enough to attend his 50th high school class reunion.
After the sixth infusion, Mike was hospitalized with colitis. Since starting treatment, Mike had lost about 30 pounds and his care team decided to discontinue the clinical trial. But an MRI showed that with only six infusions, Mike’s immune system had been kickstarted enough to attack his tumor – and it was shrinking. Later scans showed that the tumor was continuing to shrink and bone was even regrowing where the tumor used to be. After a couple of years of clear scans, Mike was told he had no signs of cancer in 2018.
Enjoying retirement again
More than six years later, Mike feels great and continues to travel the country to see friends, family and music festivals. He returns to MD Anderson once a year for follow-up scans.
“Until you’re at MD Anderson and experiencing cancer, you don’t realize how great of a place it is,” says Mike. “Everyone was so kind.”
Mike says he tells anyone facing a cancer diagnosis about his experience and offers this advice: “Get a second opinion and get to MD Anderson as quickly as you can. Enjoy every day, before, during and after cancer.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Enjoy every day – before, during and after cancer.