Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



Jeannine Walston’s Immunotherapy Story

Brain Cancer |  Diagnosed 1998

I absolutely know that further improved quality of life, enhanced survival, and cures are already occurring, and more is on the horizon.

Jeannine’s Story

Jeannine Walston was just 24 in 1998 when she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now, she’s become a powerful educator and advocate in the brain tumor and cancer arena. After her third brain surgery, she entered a clinical trial for a personalized dendritic cell vaccine, a type of immunotherapy.

Questions and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

On March 18, 1998, at the age of 24, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I knew nothing about cancer, and certainly not much about healing. Necessities offer profound invitations to educate and self-advocate with new strategies for optimal health and healing.

Dealing with the unthinkable, my dad, John, and mom, Barbara, entered a new world—with their young adult daughter as a brain tumor patient. They gave me absolute love and helped in the best ways possible. My brother John, in college at the time, also gave me so much through his loving care. Extended family and friends helped with whatever they could do. That has evolved through my cancer journey from 1998 until now in 2015.

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

Through research into decision-making for my third awake brain surgery, I connected with Linda Liau, MD, PhD at UCLA. She is a highly skilled neurosurgeon and an innovative leader helping develop DCVax-L dendritic cell vaccine to boost the immune system and attack brain tumor cells. I had been tracking her work for almost 10 years.
It simply and profoundly made sense to me that the immune system could—and did—play a paramount role in a body’s fight against cancer. When I had my first appointment with Dr. Liau to discuss the potential of surgery and treatment with a vaccine, it became clear to me that I should pursue treatment at UCLA.

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

I’ve been through many chapters with different medical teams, and the treatments evolved in the process. I had three awake brain surgeries at NIH in 1998, UCSF in 2011, and UCLA in 2013. Since the brain tumor went from Grade II to III in 2013, I also had radiation, oral chemotherapy called Temodar (temozolomide), and in a phase II clinical trial to receive the personalized dendritic cell vaccine called DCVax-L® developed by UCLA.

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

Challenges can become opportunities. Through some ups and downs at the beginning of my cancer journey, parts of me started to gravitate to my meaning and purpose. I started doing volunteer work supporting brain tumor patients, and fundraising for brain tumor nonprofits. I lobbied Congress during Brain Tumor Awareness Month, and spoke in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, regarding brain tumors.
Less than two years after my first surgery, I left my position as a legislative assistant for a Congressman from New Jersey to more expansively join the cancer arena. Since then, I’ve volunteered, worked, and consulted for cancer nonprofits, the National Cancer Institute, Food and Drug Administration, NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, hospitals, doctors, providers, other businesses, cancer patients, and caregivers.

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

I want to provide significant support and make major positive changes. My vision is for brain tumor patients to heal without suffering and live long lives. Along with my own personal experiences, I will never forget brain tumor patients—friends of mine and others I’ve met at hospitals—who were in pain, and I absolutely know that improved quality of life, enhanced survival, and cures are already occurring and much more is on the horizon.

I hope that more cancer patients learn about immunotherapy. Indeed, immunotherapy is a pioneering treatment already with FDA approval for some cancer types, as well as current clinical trials showing promising results.

In my quest for optimal health and healing, I knew I had to be proactive with research and engage with informed actions. I know I would not be here without receiving quality cancer treatments and clinical trials. New positive improvements—and even solutions—bring cancer patients into new directions to feel better and live longer. Now is the time. 

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