Relatively healthy for 81 years of his life, Massachusetts attorney Thomas Byrnes didn’t want a prostate cancer diagnosis to affect his active lifestyle. He enjoyed running, golfing, and swimming, and knew that if he underwent chemotherapy to treat his disease, he would have to quit his legal practice and stay home bedridden. Since his participation in a phase I cancer vaccine study, funded by the Cancer Research Institute and led by Neil H. Bander, M.D., of Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York, Thomas continues to do what he loves doing most—living life to the fullest.
CRI: You never had a sick day until you got prostate cancer?
Tom: I made it almost to 80 with no problems. Picked my parents carefully, you see, and always exercised; I’ve been a member of the local YMCA since 1948. Then one day I went to the bathroom at the golf club, looked down, and saw an alarming color in the water.
CRI: How did you get involved with a CRI clinical trial?
Tom: Surgery and radiation weren’t options, so I got shots of different drugs for a year; no results. Next step was chemo, but chemo would have forced me to quit my legal practice, stay around the house, and end up divorced. Then my doctor in Boston told me about a phase I vaccine trial in New York. “If it were me,” he said, “I’d be in the trial tomorrow.” “That’s good enough for me,” I told him.
CRI: Did the trial doctors explain what “phase I” meant?
Tom: They made it clear the purpose was to test for dosing levels and safety, with no promise of results. The way I looked at it, though, anything that a CRI clinical trial was testing probably had real promise; these were top-notch people who weren’t just throwing money at a problem.
CRI: What was the treatment like?
Tom: I had just one infusion—drip, drip, drip in the arm, 10 minutes and it was over, painless; I put on my hat and went home. Since then, I’ve been back several times for them to monitor the results.
CRI: How’ve you done?
Tom: After my first checkup, I was in Penn Station waiting for the train back to Massachusetts when I was paged over the public-announcement system. It was the vaccine-trial doctors; they were so excited that my PSA had gone from 48 to 30, they wanted me to know right away. Now it’s down to seven, which is fine for my age.
CRI: That’s wonderful.
Tom: My Boston doctor calls it “sensational,” but he’s cautious; “this could be unique to you,” he says. “Yes,” I say, “but it could not be, also.” We need to get this good news out; prostate cancer is the most common kind for American men these days.
CRI: You still aren’t planning to retire, are you?
Tom: I intend to keep doing everything I enjoy—work, the YMCA, golf, jogging, swimming at Nantasket Beach. I recently told my wife we should walk the Appalachian Trail; for a minute there she almost believed me.