Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



Philip P’s Immunotherapy Story

Kidney Cancer |  Diagnosed 2012

I feel like I can see past tomorrow.

Philip’s Story

In 2012, lifelong Tennessean Philip Prichard was shocked to learn that he had a 3.8 pound tumor on his right kidney. The tumor was removed successfully with surgery, but unfortunately, several months later, the cancer returned. Not satisfied with the chemotherapy options presented to them, Philip and his wife Susan sought out other options. Their research led them to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and a clinical trial for the immunotherapy nivolumab (Opdivo).

Questions and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

It was in spring of 2012 that I realized I wasn’t feeling well. I was doing a lot of traveling for work and feeling very fatigued. One week, I came home after having just driven 18 hours from Charlotte, and crashed. My wife, Susan, woke me up the next day and said we were going to the doctor.

We went on Monday morning, and he did a lot of feeling around on me. He started pushing on my abdomen around my lower right rib, and said “Well, that’s not supposed to be there.” And sure enough there was a hard spot right under my rib. They put me in the hospital on Friday, cut me open, and removed a 3.8 pound tumor.

The day of my surgery was also our second wedding anniversary. Susan and I were like “Happy anniversary! Yay!” About 40 some odd staples later, I got out of the hospital. I went home on Monday, and it was a lot of bed rest. I wasn’t working. I stayed in bed off and on for about a month.

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

I knew something was wrong, and sure enough he said, “We’ll talk later.” They said there is nothing we can really do for you. We can put you on chemotherapy. I was going to go down the traditional chemo road, and my wife was on the phone constantly. I could hear her when I was lying in the bed just on the phone talking to people trying to figure out what to do, where to take me. She got in touch with MD Anderson in Houston. And so we traveled down  there in March. I was still really sore from the second surgery and the staples.

We met with a surgeon, and he said, “Mr. Prichard, don’t let anybody else open you up again. There is really no way that we can remove the tumor the way it’s positioned.” He said it had spread like molasses.

But he set me up with an oncologist, Dr. Tannir, and his team. Dr. Tannir came in, and he said, “We’ve got some hope for you. There’s a new drug—it doesn’t have a name, it’s a number. We’d like to get you on it. It’s a 50/50 shot whether you get on it. You’ll either get on the new drug or the standard of care.” The drug turned out to be the immunotherapy Opdivo.

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

Dr. Tannir said basically it was giving my immune system a key to attack the tumor. He said it would be my immune system fighting the cancer. It seemed almost too good to be true.

Fortunately I got on the experimental arm of the trial, and I went down for my first treatment in March, and then continued traveling to Houston every other Tuesday. By the third month, the tumor had shrunk by about 30 percent. And every scan after showed the cancer had reduced significantly. And I was getting stronger day by day.

My doctor hasn’t said that I’m cancer free, but I’ve been off Opdivo since the trial ended in March. He says what he believes to be is scar tissue on my liver. I’ve gone down every Tuesday for the last three years, it’s a little unnerving, a little scary, to be off the drug.

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