Ovarian cancer survivor: Why I travel for a clinical trial
MD Anderson staff
Ovarian cancer symptoms can be rather vague – bloating, a feeling of fullness and/or constipation. But Diane Sarver didn’t have any of these.
“I had a little fluid in the left side of my neck that a physical therapist noticed. She suggested I have it checked out,” she recalls.
Diane, who works in a hospital in Oregon, had a biopsy that led to a stage IV ovarian cancer diagnosis in January 2010.
“Nobody thought it could be that, especially with the appearance of the fluid only and the absence of pelvic symptoms,” she says. “I have no history of cancer on either side of my family, and I was perfectly healthy.”
A round of chemotherapy put Diane into remission. But two and a half years later, she had her first ovarian cancer recurrence. When she had two more recurrences within two and a half years, Diane decided to investigate other options.
Traveling for ovarian cancer treatment
A friend of Diane’s knew a researcher at MD Anderson, so she made a phone call and found out there were clinical trials for which she may be a good candidate.
“I had heard many MD Anderson success stories, so even though it’s not close to me, I decided to pursue it,” Diane says. “It takes quite a bit of travel time to get to Houston from Oregon, but when you have the opportunity to potentially be on a life-saving clinical trial, the travel becomes manageable and part of a welcome routine.”
Choosing a clinical trial
At MD Anderson, Diane joined a Phase IB trial that’s part of our Ovarian Cancer Moon Shot™. She takes two oral medications twice a day: olaparib, which has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and AZD2014, an investigational drug.
Before starting the clinical trial, Diane went through extensive testing to be sure her body was strong enough to withstand it. She also learned that she’d have to temporarily move to Houston for six weeks. Diane says MD Anderson was there to help her with every aspect of her relocation.
“There’s an entire team when one begins a trial that is extremely helpful,” she says. “All my questions, from insurance benefits to housing, were answered for my specific needs.”
Life on an experimental medication
Diane can’t eat for two hours before or after taking her experimental medication, but she hasn’t had any side effects.
“After about the first seven weeks, all of my test results had normalized, which is to me, a remarkable response,” she says. “In fact, they call me an ‘unusual responder.’”
Diane is now entering her third year on the clinical trial, and she’ll remain on it as long as the drugs work for her and she doesn’t have any side effects.
Diane gets an exam and testing monthly. To cut down on travel, our doctors work closely with her Oregon oncologist, whom she sees for two consecutive months. Every third month, she comes to MD Anderson.
“The doctors have met and exchanged information,” she says. “It’s worked out quite well.”
Gratitude for high-quality care
Diane uses two words to describe how she feels about coming to MD Anderson for treatment: grateful commitment.
“I am extremely appreciative every day to have the opportunity to participate in this clinical trial at MD Anderson,” she says.
What impresses her most about MD Anderson is how committed everyone is to supporting patients.
“Everyone from the housekeeping staff, those in the restaurants, gift shops, and labs, and especially the clinicians have always impressed me with their kindness and their focus on patient care,” Diane says.
Spreading the word
A few of Diane’s friends have been diagnosed with cancer recently, and she tells them of her experience in choosing a treatment facility.
“I tell them that for a committed patient, a clinical trial could be life-changing and life-sustaining. Just pick up the phone, call MD Anderson and begin to explore options,” she says. “I cannot encourage people enough to gain knowledge, ask questions and learn to become your own best advocate.”