March 02, 2017
Ovarian cancer patient thankful for immunotherapy clinical trial
BY Megan Maisel
When Cathy Tompkins complained of an unusual pain near her sternum, doctors took an X-ray and told her she was likely constipated. When her pain persisted and a second X-ray didn’t indicate what was wrong, a friend urged her to seek a second opinion.
Cathy got a concerning call from her new doctor while she and her husband were celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary at a Texas Hill Country cabin: her CT scan showed cancer cells. The doctor suspected they originated in one of her ovaries.
“My first thought was, I wonder if I’m going to make it to my 49th wedding anniversary,” Cathy recalls.
She was immediately referred to MD Anderson where she was diagnosed with stage IV high-grade serous ovarian cancer, an especially aggressive form of the disease.
The cancer diagnosis was a shock to the 67-year-old, who had always lived an active and healthy lifestyle and who had few ovarian cancer symptoms. “I’m the one in the family who never gets sick,” she says.
Confidence in her care
Cathy was familiar with MD Anderson, as she’d been a caregiver for both her mother and father when they were treated here many years before. “It never crossed my mind that I would be the one getting the treatment,” she recalls.
During her first appointment with Shannon Westin, M.D., associate professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, Cathy felt confident that MD Anderson was her best choice for care. “She hadn’t been in the room five minutes before I said, ‘I’m good. She is going to take care of me. She is on it!’”
A Moon Shots Program immunotherapy clinical trial
Cathy enrolled in a clinical trial that includes:
- Nine weeks of chemotherapy (carboplatin and taxol) combined with an immunotherapy drug called Durvalumab;
- Debulking surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible;
- An additional nine weeks of the chemo and immunotherapy combination; and
- 28 weeks of the Durvalumab immunotherapy by itself, to prevent recurrence.
The clinical trial is part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, a focused effort to dramatically and quickly reduce cancer deaths.
Cathy says she’s impressed at how well taken care of she feels by the entire team involved in her clinical trial, including her research nurse, Sara Sharafi. “Everyone has bent over backwards to help,” she exclaims.
Three times a week, Cathy travels to MD Anderson for an infusion and injections that bolster her white blood cell count. She drives an hour and a half each way from her home near Beaumont, Texas.
She’s had few side effects, other than neutropenia and hair loss. “It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be,” she says. “I’m so thankful for that.”
The aid of friends
Cathy credits her family and what she refers to as her “travel team” for helping her through her cancer treatment. The travel team comprises close friends who take turns making the journey with her to MD Anderson and help keep her entertained during her drug infusions.
“The best part is having so many people who are willing to help you,” she says.
She’s touched by many others who have prayed for her and helped to lift her spirits. Each week she receives a card signed by all the participants of a bible study group in Concan, Texas, though she only knows one member.
“Cancer has taught me what it is to be a true friend,” Cathy says. “It makes you realize when someone gets a diagnosis like this – or is going through tough times – it’s a big deal if you send them a card or give them a call.”
She’s also learned not to sweat the small stuff. “When you have cancer, you learn more about what’s important and what’s not.”
Life after ovarian cancer treatment
Once her clinical trial is complete, Cathy’s looking forward to getting around to the “someday we should” activities with her husband, who she calls her “biggest supporter,” and spending more time with her children, grandchildren and new great-granddaughter.
“I’ve got a bunch of kids I’ve got to see grow up,” she says.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Cancer has taught me what it is to be a true friend.