After an unusually tiring couple of months, Salee Ann Jenkins decided that a quick visit to her doctor was in order. “This disease crept up on me with little drama or fanfare,” Salee described in her essay “My Story”, which she wrote following her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. “Cancer is a lurker; it takes a stealthy approach; it accrues, then pounces.”
“The holidays seemed more daunting than usual. I was tired and slightly bloated. I called my internist in February (retrospectively, eight weeks after becoming symptomatic) because as I've aged, I follow up on these small signals more conscientiously, albeit with a burdened and long-suffering “I don’t have time for this” attitude.
The physical exam was unremarkable but my CA125 was stratospheric. I had surgery within three days. Valentine's Day. I'm from Chicago; there was a massacre on that day during Prohibition. My cancer commemorated it for me.”
Over the next seven and a half years, she fought an aggressive battle with courage. “She was treated through a long succession of chemotherapy regimens,” her husband, Bob, explained. “She never enjoyed a remission.” Salee passed away on August 12, 2013, surrounded by family and friends.
Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancer in the United States. 63% of cases are diagnosed after the disease has already spread, resulting in a five-year survival rate of only 27%.
Throughout her treatment, oncologists at several major cancer centers marveled at her longevity. “She clearly has a different biology than a typical high-grade serous ovarian cancer,” one oncologist described. “I think that is of interest for assessing driving biology…and potential for alternative strategies.”
This idea of other treatment strategies is what led Bob to the Cancer Research Institute and to start supporting ovarian cancer research in memory of Salee. “It seems clear that Salee’s immune system had been actively countering the aggressive cancer throughout all the treatments. She believed that immunotherapy offered the best prospects for success among the various current cancer fighting approaches.”
Salee always advocated personal empowerment in life to her family, friends, and patients. Immunotherapy’s thrust is to empower the cancer patient to target the cancer, with fewer side effects. Had Salee’s immune system benefited from immunotherapy, she could have written more words like the following:
“So cancer and I are attempting to strike a truce: It can lurk as long as I can work. It can live its own little life as long as I can live my bigger one. One of us will eventually succumb and it will probably be me but in the interim I hope we can find a way to coexist without excessive compromise. To me, that’s winning.”
Please consider making a donation to the Cancer Research Institute in memory of Salee Ann Jenkins. Together, we can empower the immune system to conquer cancer, giving those who fight the chance to better live their lives.