Patricia Hawkins: A Conversation with Patricia and Her Gynecologic Oncologist, Linda R. Duska, MD
I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2016. After my initial treatments with radiation and surgery the cancer came back. Fortunately, I was able to connect with Dr. Duska at the UVA Health in Charlottesville. Thanks to Dr. Duska and her team, I received treatment through a clinical trial that was testing dostarlimab-gxly (Jemperli) in patients with endometrial cancer. Since this treatment, I’m getting better, the tumor has shrunk, and I’m feeling good.
Back in 2016, my doctor prescribed tests due to some health issues, which eventually led to my diagnosis with endometrial cancer. It threw me for a loop. I was treated with surgery followed by radiation. After my initial treatment, I was doing well for about six months to a year when my left leg started to swell up. I figured that it was from the scar tissue that came from surgery but, as it turned out, my cancer had reappeared. This was upsetting. I received treatment with chemotherapy, but the cancer kept progressing. I kind of lost it there. I was crying a lot. My counselors helped me stay strong. Eventually, I spoke with Dr. Duska and her team who talked to me about a clinical trial. At the beginning, I was a bit nervous but talking to Dr. Duska and her team gave me hope and I decided to participate
The clinical trial was testing dostarlimab-gxly in patients with endometrial cancer. I received this drug for more than three years. The treatment has helped. I know I have made progress and that the cancer has shrunk. Sometimes, I get tired and I have some problems with my back. But I am glad that I participated in the trial and would tell other cancer patients to do so as well.
Now, I can spend time with my daughter and grandchildren. We have taken a few trips recently. I am also enjoying my time with my girlfriends. Sometimes I do get anxious about the cancer coming back. But I am ready to take on that challenge because I have a great doctor and I know that I will be taken care of well.
Linda Duska, MD
Clinical research gives patients opportunities to try novel therapies. In the case of Patricia, the clinical trial gave her the opportunity to receive treatment with an immune checkpoint inhibitor, to which she would not have had access otherwise. Fortunately, she had a great response and was able to stay on the treatment for more than three years with a really good quality of life and an enjoyable time with her family. This was a great opportunity, and even though she was initially nervous about getting an experimental drug, Patricia was brave and did it. I’m very happy for her.
There are many reasons why it is important to improve the diversity of participants in clinical research. One of these reasons is to make sure that every patient has an opportunity to receive the novel therapeutics that are being tested in clinical trials. In addition, we want the results from these trials to be generalizable to a broader patient population, which means that, in the case of gynecologic cancers, we need them to be applicable to all women and not just a select few. Therefore, it is important that every woman with a gynecologic cancer who is eligible for a study is offered an opportunity to participate.
Clinical research is critical for making advances in cancer care, particularly in this new era of personalized medicine where, instead of a “one size fits all” approach, we’re targeting therapy to the appropriate tumor in the appropriate patient. To do so effectively, we need a huge investment of time and money. The federal investment in cancer research allows us to have a less biased and more expert approach to clinical research. It is absolutely vital in helping us make progress in cancer care.