Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



Shirley Dumont’s Immunotherapy Story

Bladder Cancer |  Diagnosed 2008

My doctor calls me the ‘bionic woman.’ This is all through immunotherapy.

Shirley’s Story

Shirley Dumont has had cancer more times than she can count. Her cancer story starts at age 39, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Following a mastectomy with chemotherapy, Shirley maintained good health until her late 60s, when her doctors found ovarian cancer. Shirley underwent a second mastectomy and had a kidney removed. Just a few months later, her doctors found bladder cancer as well. The bladder cancer spread quickly throughout Shirley’s other organs, and she was told she only had 6 to 8 months to live.

The Hope of Immunotherapy Clinical Trials

At the time there were no standard treatment options for metastatic bladder cancer that had failed chemotherapy. However, the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit did have a clinical trial for immunotherapy, a form of cancer treatment that uses the power of the immune system to fight cancer. This clinical trial was testing a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor called atezolizumab (Tecentriq®).

Judy, Shirley’s close friend, had never heard of anyone participating in a cancer treatment like this one, but she encouraged Shirley to learn more about the study. With the support of Judy and the rest of her family, Shirley agreed to enter the immunotherapy clinical trial, with the hope that she could at least help others through her participation. Shirley had a CAT scan after the first three immunotherapy treatments, and when her oncologist, Dr. Ulka Vaishampayan, came into the room with the test results she was smiling. That’s when they knew that “it was a go,” and had renewed hope for Shirley’s recovery.

Learning from Shirley’s Inspiring Cancer Story

Not only has Shirley’s cancer slowed down, but it has also responded to the immunotherapy with “excellent results,” says Dr. Vaishampayan. Shirley’s other doctors, who had believed she could not survive her disease, call her the “bionic woman.” Dr. Vaishampayan feels that for the first time, immunotherapy is offering something close to a cure for metastatic solid tumors in many types of cancers. Additional progress can only be made by allowing for more immunotherapy clinical trials and finding inspiration in immunotherapy successes like Shirley’s cancer story. Atezolizumab (Tecentriq®) is now FDA-approved for advanced bladder cancer and as a first-line treatment for patients who are ineligible for cisplatin chemotherapy.

Shirley and Judy support the Cancer Research Institute’s efforts to spread awareness of the hope and potential offered by immunotherapy. They believe there should be more immunotherapy trials for different types of cancer, and believe in the powerful role of immunotherapy research in future of cancer treatment.

UPDATE: Shirley passed away on October 23, 2016. Immunotherapy extended her life for several more active and happy years with her family. 

Questions and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

I’ve had many types of cancer. The very first time I was diagnosed, I was 39 years old. I had breast cancer, which was treated with had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. I did pretty well until 7 or 8 years ago, when they found ovarian cancer. I had a second mastectomy, and a kidney removed. A few months later, they found bladder cancer.

How did you learn about immunotherapy and why did you decide to do it?

When the bladder cancer didn’t respond to chemo, I was out of options, except for this one clinical trial. My friend Judy had never known anyone to go into a study like this, but she said “Let’s go down, let’s listen to them and hear what they have to say, what they expect, what you have to do to get into the study.” My son was after me, saying “Mom, you’ve got to try everything!”, so I tried it. I had never heard of immunotherapy, but I thought “Well, if I can help other people, great!”

How did immunotherapy compare to other treatments you may have received, if any?

I would never go through chemo again—I’ve been through it 3 times. Never again, because immunotherapy is a walk in the park compared to regular chemo. My hair wasn’t falling out; my energy wasn’t zapped—what a difference. My friends tell me I don’t even look sick!

What would you want another patient to know about immunotherapy or about participating in a clinical trial?

We need more studies like this for different types of cancer. We want to get the word out through the Cancer Research Institute: Immunotherapy is a good thing. That’s it. We hope there’s more of it, and maybe one day eradicate cancer altogether.

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