Tennessee resident Philip Prichard hadn’t even heard of immunotherapy or Nivolumab when he was first diagnosed with kidney cancer in the summer of 2012.
But it’s precisely that drug and groundbreaking type of cancer treatment that eventually saved his life.
Philip was on his way home from a business trip to South Carolina when he began feeling pain in his right side and leg. He told his wife he wasn’t feeling well, and she took him to a doctor the following Monday.
“I wasn’t sure if I had testicular cancer or what, but my right testicle was hurting, too,” Philip says. “The doctor in Memphis started feeling around on my abdomen and found a hard spot right below my rib. And he said, ‘That’s not supposed to be there.’”
A CT scan taken that same day revealed a tumor weighing almost four pounds hiding in his upper abdomen.
“I didn’t even know it was there,” says Philip, who had surgery that Friday. After the first tumor was removed, doctors discovered another one on his adrenal gland that was moving into his liver. Philip was diagnosed with metastatic renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer.
The MD Anderson journey begins
Philip’s local doctors prescribed a new chemotherapy drug called Votrient (pazopanib) to successfully treat some spots they saw on his lungs. Next, they tried to remove the remaining tumor with a second surgery. But the surgery didn’t work.
So, in the spring of 2013, Philip decided to come to MD Anderson.
“We heard it was one of the best cancer centers in the country,” Philip says. “I knew it would have the best treatment for the type of cancer I had. And at that point, my options were running out.”
Nivolumab gamble pays off
Limited options also prompted Philip to take a gamble on a clinical trial for Nivolumab with Nizar M. Tannir, M.D.
Every other Tuesday for three years, Philip received an infusion of Nivolumab, a powerful immunotherapy drug. By the end of the first eight weeks, his largest tumor had shrunk by 30%, and by the spring of 2015, his tumors were virtually undetectable.
“Immunotherapy takes my immune system and targets the cancer cell directly,” Philip says. “I didn’t realize that there was anything out there like this treatment until I came to MD Anderson. But every time we went back, there was good news. It gave me a little glimmer of hope.”
Advice for survivors
Philip has now been in remission for more than a year. He is back at work, traveling frequently and feeling energized. He has a message for other cancer patients seeking treatment at MD Anderson.
“Remain hopeful,” Philip says. “The human body is stronger than anyone thinks. I’m living proof.”