Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Pam G’s Immunotherapy Story

Lung Cancer | Diagnosed 2013

I would not be alive today if it were not for this drug.

Pam’s Story

When Pam Griffith, 65, was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in March 2013, her doctors told her that it was aggressive but treatable. With surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, she would likely be fine. But that summer, Pam and her husband, Randy, knew that something was wrong. Pam had begun to develop strange lumps in her neck and on the back on her head. A CT scan performed on August 23, 2013, showed that the cancer had spread to both lungs and her adrenal glands. Pam had progressed from stage 3 to stage 4.

At that point, Pam’s oncologist, Scott J. Antonia, M.D., Ph.D., of Moffitt Hospital in Tampa, FL, recommended that she consider entering a clinical trial of a new immunotherapy drug called nivolumab, made by Bristol Myers-Squibb. Nivolumab belongs to a class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, which block the “braking system” on T cells. The particular checkpoint that nivolumab targets is called PD-1. By “taking the brakes off” of T cells, nivolumab enables a stronger immune system response against cancer.

A happily retired real estate agent, with two children and six grandchildren, Pam knew that she wanted to fight the cancer in any way she could. The Answer to Cancer (TheA2C) spoke with Pam about her enrollment in the clinical trial and her experience with nivolumab.

Questions and Answers

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

Doctor Antonia said there was a cancer study drug that had just come out and was being tested in clinical trials. The drug is called nivolumab, and it had only been out for maybe 2 or 3 years. He wanted to get me into that study program as soon as possible, because he felt that was the one chance I had. 

What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?

The side effects to this drug treatment therapy for me have been quite minimal. It’s just been a blessing and it’s saved my life. My goodness, I hope it saves the lives of many people. I just think it’s a miracle drug—at least it has been for me.  

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

They gave me a very strong chemotherapy treatment that involved two chemo drugs at the same time: VP16 and cisplatin. And then I would have to go and have radiation therapy as well. I went through about 7 weeks of the chemotherapy, which really made me quite sick. It was pretty devastating to my system and I didn’t know if I was even going to survive that. The radiation became very difficult towards the end. I wasn’t able to swallow anything and keep food down.

It turns out that the chemo treatments, the radiation therapy, none of that worked for me. In fact, the entire time I was on that treatment, the cancer was spreading throughout my body. During the chemotherapy, my immune system was depressed big time, and the cancer just took over.

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

I just thought to myself, you know, I’m not going to die. I don’t care how bad it looks. I decided I was never going to give up. I would just keep fighting and trying my very best.

Two things really kept me going. One was my trust in God; I realized I had to put things in somebody else’s hands. That, and the love and the support from our family. We have a huge support network of people at our church. I mean, everybody saw me when I was in really bad shape. They all say this is a miracle. 

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