Philip Prichard: Looking Past Kidney Cancer Thanks to Immunotherapy
In February 2013, I was told that I had about 18 months to live because my kidney cancer had spread throughout my body. After seeking out a second opinion at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, I started receiving nivolumab (Opdivo) through a clinical trial. There is now no evidence of cancer in my body, and I’m looking forward to enjoying life, building anew company, and traveling the world with my wife.
My journey with kidney cancer began in July 2012 when my wife insisted that I go to the doctor. I had been really tired and lethargic for a while, sleeping the weekends away, and my blood pressure had risen dramatically. But the deciding factor for my wife was when I saw blood in my urine.
During the exam, the doctor felt around my abdomen and said, “That’s not supposed to be there.” He went on to explain to my wife and me that I had a large mass on my kidney and I needed a CT scan immediately. I was in shock, even more so when the scan confirmed I had kidney cancer. This all happened on a Monday. That Friday, I had surgery here in Memphis, and the surgeon removed my right kidney and a 3.8-pound tumor.
Tests showed that the tumor was a type of kidney cancer called renal cell carcinoma. This finding led my oncologist to start me on pazopanib (Votrient). Despite this, after I had recovered from surgery, I felt pretty good and went back to work.
Then, in November 2012, a routine follow-up scan showed that the cancer had spread, and there was a tumor wrapped around my adrenal gland. We scheduled a second surgery but had to put it off after I developed a blood clot in my lung. I spent 5 days in the hospital over the New Year being treated with blood thinners.
Once the blood clot had been treated, I was able to schedule the surgery again. By this time, it was February 2013. When I woke up from the
operation, all the surgeon would say was, “We will talk later.” I knew things were not good. It turned out that he hadn’t been able to remove the tumor because it had spread throughout my abdomen. It was not just on my adrenal gland but also wrapped around my vena cava [the large blood vessel that carries blood back to the heart] and in my liver.
At this point, my health was deteriorating rapidly. I was losing weight and feeling extremely lethargic. I was down to just 190 pounds and could barely get around by myself.
It looked as if chemotherapy was my only option, but it offered me no hope. So my wife and I decided we would get a second opinion and went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The doctor there, Dr. Tannir, confirmed that surgery was not an option for me but told us about a clinical trial testing a new drug that would turn on my immune system to fight the cancer. This new information gave us some hope, and I had no hesitation in enrolling in the nivolumab clinical trial.
I started receiving nivolumab in March 2013 and was treated every 2 weeks. Within a month or so, I began feeling better. I was less tired, I could feel myself getting stronger, and I started gaining weight. After the first 3 months, scans showed that the tumors had reduced by 30 percent. This news lifted my spirit. My spirit has lifted even more with every scan since, because each one showed that the tumors were shrinking more and more.
Currently, there is no evidence of disease, just a little scar tissue in my liver, which I will have surgically removed in the near future. I am so healthy that 3 years after I started taking nivolumab, Dr. Tannir decided that I do not need to take it anymore.
I’m living proof that immunotherapy works, and I can’t stress enough how much the research funding that led to drugs like nivolumab means to me. Nivolumab gave me hope again. I can live life and see the future.