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Sharp Health News

Going coast to coast to treat her cancer

July 25, 2019

Going coast to coast to treat her cancer

Lisa Booth, shown here with her husband Eric and children Nathan and Anna, travels from her home in Seattle to take part in an oncology clinical trial at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Photo courtesy of Michelle Enebo.

In the ongoing debate over which coast is the best coast, Lisa Booth will likely cast her vote for the West Coast.

This is not just because she is a resident of Washington State. Lisa, a stage 4 breast cancer survivor, joined an oncology clinical trial in New York and then chose to transfer her participation in the trial across the country to Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego and is “thrilled” with the results.

Lisa was diagnosed with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer — breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs in the body — four years ago. She received chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation and liver ablation, which is a nonsurgical technique to eliminate liver tumors.

She was then told there was no longer evidence of active disease. Unfortunately, the breast cancer returned soon after.

After participating in two different clinical trials and starting a new treatment — which again brought her to a point of no evidence of active disease — Lisa had to have surgery to repair her diaphragm, which had been damaged during the earlier liver ablation. In what seemed like a cruel twist of fate, her cancer returned once again.

“My cancer recurred just as I recovered from the diaphragm repair,” Lisa says. “I first went on the clinical trial in New York City and then moved to Sharp in 2019. My last scan showed only a faint trace of a single lesion on my liver. I am thrilled to be doing so well.”

Lisa initially learned about the trial, which is being performed in 14 hospitals in the U.S. and Japan, during her personal research into clinical trials. She joined the trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and later transferred to Sharp Memorial Hospital so that she wouldn’t have to travel across the country from her home in Seattle for each of her monthly treatments.

The phase 1 trial is one of more than 25 clinical trials offered by the Oncology Research Program at Sharp, the only institution in San Diego to be accredited by the Association for Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs. Phase 1 trials are usually the first to involve people in the testing of a new treatment drug, its appropriate dosing and related side effects. Clinical trials are an option for patients receiving treatment at the cancer centers affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital, Sharp Grossmont Hospital and Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

At the time of her initial diagnosis, Lisa’s children were ages 5 and 7 and she worked full-time. Since joining the trial, she went on part-time disability, but continues to live a very full life.

“Working part time gives me more time for care, travel for the clinical trial and keeping my energy level up,” says Lisa. “I love living a simple and present life. Great joy is found in being home to make lunches for the kids, doing drop-off and pickup, walking with my neighbors and eating dinner with friends.”

Amy King, RN, an advanced clinical trials specialist at the Sharp Center for Research, credits Lisa for getting to this point.

“Lisa is extremely knowledgeable about her cancer and treatment options,” says King. “She found the clinical trial herself by doing research and contacted Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York directly, where she began participation in the trial. This treatment is keeping her cancer from growing and spreading.”

Lisa has equal praise for King and her colleagues at Sharp. She greatly appreciates King’s continuous support as she works to figure out how to keep her trips tightly scheduled and is flexible when Lisa needs to address her other responsibilities as a mom and professional.

“Sharp has been amazing,” Lisa says. “What a change from the nonpersonal experience I had in New York. I never saw the same oncologist, nor the same infusion nurse. At Sharp, I see the same care team every three weeks. Dr. Charles Redfern goes above and beyond, and Amy King is incredibly supportive. I love the infusion nurses, as well — they make chemo feel less clinical and more spa-like.”

According to Dr. Charles Redfern, a medical oncologist affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital, clinical trials like the one at Sharp are vitally important to the field of oncology. They offer access to oncology drugs in development that may have beneficial effects for trial participants and others in the future.

“Only through clinical trials do we learn if new drugs are effective and if they are safe,” he says. “It is my belief that every patient should be offered a clinical trial of some sort.”

Lisa agrees, noting that clinical trials give patients like her what she calls “H.O.P.E. — Hang On, Possibilities Emerge.”

“A clinical trial gives the possibility of threading the needle and becoming an outlier,” she says. “By participating, you also give the opportunity for researchers to learn so that others will reap the benefits of your participation. I know that my life is longer because of my participation in this trial. Sixteen months and counting — I feel lucky every day!”

The Sharp Center for Research offers clinical trials for patients in many areas of medicine. Learn more about clinical trials at Sharp hospitals.

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