Jaclyn (Jackie) VanRaaphorst: Combating Stage III Ovarian Cancer, Thanks to Research
My cancer story started with a stomachache. I was referred to a GI specialist, who ordered an ultrasound and CT scan, leading to my diagnosis of stage III ovarian cancer in 2015. Even though I have an extensive family history of cancer, this was devastating news. I was in complete shock. I underwent major surgeries to remove my uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. This was followed by many rounds of chemotherapy. Over the past eight years, I have been through several types of treatments. Each controlled my cancer for a period of time, but then my CT scans and tumor marker tests would show that the cancer was back. I was basically out of options when the new drug, mirvetuximab soravtansine-gynx (Elahere), got approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November 2022. After a series of tests to confirm that I qualified for the treatment and my insurance covered it I started taking it. Since receiving the new drug, my tumor markers have gone down significantly, and I believe that my next CT scans will confirm that it is working.
In March 2015, I started having pains in my stomach. It got to the point where one day while at a grocery store, I abandoned everything in my cart and called my doctor. Preliminary examinations did not find anything, so I decided to see a GI specialist. I had an ultrasound on a Friday, a CT scan the following Monday, and was called back to the doctor the same day. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. My doctor informed me that I had ovarian cancer. I do not really remember much after that. I cried quite a bit; it was a devastating diagnosis.
Following diagnosis, I saw a gynecological oncologist who recommended a complete hysterectomy, which is major surgery that removes the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the cervix. After surgery, I started on a chemotherapy regimen of carboplatin and Taxol and stayed cancer free for more than a year. Every three months, I received CT scans and tests for CA-125, a biomarker that can be elevated in the blood of ovarian cancer patients, to check for recurrence. One of my CT scans and CA-125 tests came back showing that the numbers were elevated. The cancer was back, and I had to go back on chemotherapy.
Over the past eight years, I have been on every possible treatment for ovarian cancer, including several types of chemotherapies, molecularly targeted therapies such as PARP inhibitors, immunotherapies, and multiple combinations
of those. I would continue treatments until they became intolerable because of the toxicities or when I had a recurrence. I was starting to run out of options and doctors resorted to recycling drugs I had already tried before.
In November 2022, FDA approved a drug for ovarian cancer. I jumped through many hoops to make sure I was eligible for the drug. Fortunately, I fit all the criteria: I had received more than three prior systemic treatments including chemotherapies, and my cancer was folate receptor alpha (FRα) positive.
I started receiving Elahere in April 2023 and have been through four cycles so far. I get a CA-125 test every three weeks to monitor my cancer and it is remarkable how quickly the numbers have gone down. My CA-125 has dropped 500 points, which is amazing. I have a CT scan coming up. I hope that I get positive news and the scans show no progression—or better yet, some tumor shrinkage.
Through my experience, I have become a bigger advocate for medical research and funding. It is extremely important to continue the research and development on new therapies for all different types of cancer. Every drug I’ve ever been on went through a rigorous research process before receiving FDA approval. I would not be eight and a half years into what is typically a five-years-at-best prognosis if I did not have these treatments. All cancer patients want one thing—extending the time that we have on this planet. We want more time with our family, our friends, more time to do all the things that we love to do. And that is exactly what research is affording us.