Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Drew Griffin’s Immunotherapy Story

Colorectal Cancer |  Diagnosed 2012

Be the change you seek in the world.

Drew’s Story

In October 2012, Drew discovered that the abdominal pain he had assumed to be lactose intolerance was caused by stage 3 colorectal cancer. After his diagnosis, he underwent an emergency surgery followed by months of radiation and chemotherapy with terrible side effects. By 2014 the cancer was not responding and had metastasized to his lung and liver.

In November 2017, he decided to try an anti-PD-1 immunotherapy that unlocks the power of the immune system’s best weapon—the T cell. Drew experienced no side effects during immunotherapy and was able exercise, travel around Europe, enjoy new and old relationships with family and friends, and return to what he loves most: volunteering for organizations and causes about which he feels passionate.

Drew passed away on January 24, 2021. 

Questions and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

On October 24, 2012, I was leading a political campaign sign wave event at a busy intersection with a bunch of volunteers. While I was excited about the involvement, I felt lethargic, tired, and weak, but I pushed through because later that evening I had a meeting to facilitate.

A few hours after the sign wave event, I was facilitating a volunteer meeting when I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my abdomen followed by overwhelming nausea and sickness. Throughout the night and into the morning, I found myself vomiting two to three times per hour until I finally agreed to be taken to the emergency room. I had been experiencing abdominal pain for months leading up this day, but previous emergency room visits gave me the impression I had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). When my symptoms and answers to the attending doctors questions didn’t line up, x-rays were ordered and within an hour I was told a fist-sized tumor caused a collapsed colon. I had stage 3 cancer and needed emergency surgery.

While I was in the hospital recovering from the abdominal surgery, doctors noticed a thumb-sized lump on the right side of my throat, it was biopsied, and two weeks later I learned I also had stage 3 throat cancer.

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

I first heard about immunotherapy in 2015 when it was still in clinical trials for colorectal cancer, but unavailable to me because that therapy was not covered by Medicare at that time.

I started immunotherapy treatment in November 2017, after I had recovered from a series of hospital stays and tumor growth. My oncologist stated that immunotherapy was available and pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) had a good track record for patients with my mutated gene type.

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

I have been receiving immunotherapy for over two years and it has been amazing. Immunotherapy has helped me live a fairly normal life again and has allowed me to enjoy health as I once knew it. An unexpected bonus has been no side effects from treatment. Immunotherapy has given me my life back and I am making the most of the opportunity!

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

There is absolutely no comparing my immunotherapy experience with chemotherapy and radiation. Chemo strips away your health and made me sick and weak for weeks and months. Radiation for my throat cancer wiped out the taste buds in my mouth for nearly two years, and I still taste food differently than I once did.

Immunotherapy makes me feel almost as if I am no longer sick. I have the energy and strength to do anything I want and having the second chance to live my best life never goes without appreciation.

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

I didn’t realize that cancer would bring out the best in me. Cancer has taught me to be strong, empathetic, and understanding in so many ways. It has given me experiences that I would never have known about otherwise, as well as given me insights that I may not have received until years later in life. I am amazed every day that I live a happy and healthy life while managing a chronic illness thanks to advances in cancer treatment.

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

My experience and the experience of others I have met, who have undergone immunotherapy, has been positive. I think anyone who has cancer should inquire about the possibility and availability of immunotherapy in standard-of-care treatment or a clinical trial.

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