Immunotherapy Patient Stories

Patients share their immunotherapy experiences in their own words.

Each week throughout Cancer Immunotherapy Month this June, we will introduce you to a patient who will tell their cancer story on video, from learning diagnosis to enrolling in clinical trials and receiving immunotherapy as treatment. We hope by sharing their stories that you or a loved one will become more informed about cancer immunotherapy and the patient experience.

Oswald HeadshotFighting Lung Cancer: Oswald's Immunotherapy Story

"You have to decide either it's gonna win or I'm gonna win, and the immunotherapy makes it possible for you to win because you have a partner in the fight."

Following diagnosis with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer, Oswald began first-line treatment with a PD-1 checkpoint immunotherapy. As of June 2020, Oswald is cancer-free for over two years.

On New Years Day 2017, Oswald woke up extremely sick. After a week of illness and wanting the best care possible, he left Brooklyn and went to Columbia University Medical Center where he was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. With a PD-L1 score of 80 percent, he was eligible for a newly approved first-line treatment with pembrolizumab (Keytruda®), a PD-L1 checkpoint immunotherapy. Almost immediately, he felt different; today, he has no evidence of disease. Now, every day is like a New Years Day for Oswald, and he looks forward to dancing in Trinidad's Carnival next year.

Debbie HeadshotKidney Cancer and a Second Opinion: Debbie's Immunotherapy Story

"I heard about immunotherapy from my doctor, and when I found that out, I just had hope."

The stakes couldn’t have been higher after Debbie was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer. Faced with few options, she sought a second opinion and enrolled in a clinical trial of combination immunotherapy of CTLA-4 and PD-1 checkpoint inhibitors. As of June 2020, Debbie has been cancer-free for over 14 months.

Just before Christmas in 2014, Debbie Guadagno was looking forward to spoiling her grandkids with presents and spending time at family events. She had no idea that a tumor the size of a football was growing on her kidney until a routine blood test showed elevated calcium levels and she was sent for further testing. Scans showed that the cancer had spread to her liver, lung, and spine. Told she had 18 months to live at best, she found her way "through a stroke of luck" into a clinical trial testing a combination of two immunotherapies—ipilimumab (Yervoy®) and nivolumab (Opdivo®)—as a first-line treatment following surgical removal of the tumor. With the help of her husband, Gary, and sister, Cindy, Debbie made it to all her appointments, receiving treatment for two years before going off the trial. In April 2019—more than four years after her diagnosis—she was declared cancer-free by her medical team.

Michelle HeadshotPreventing Esophageal Cancer Recurrence: Michelle's Immunotherapy Story

"They need me to be the rock, and I can be the rock because I did that trial."

With a high risk of recurrence, Michelle wanted to do everything she could to stop her esophageal cancer from coming back and enrolled in a PD-1 checkpoint immunotherapy clinical trial.  


Originally diagnosed in July 2016, Michelle’s treatment plan progressed very quickly, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Her family and coworkers helped support her throughout treatment. Declared cancer-free by the end of December 2016, she considered her next steps to stay cancer-free. In February 2017, she met with Dr. Deirdre Cohen at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, who recommended Michelle enroll in a clinical trial of nivolumab (Opdivo®), a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor. After immunotherapy treatment, Michelle has enjoyed two cancer-free years with her husband and daughter and looks forward to a future immune to cancer.

K.C. HeadshotFinding Another Treatment Option for Stage 4 Lung Cancer: K.C.’s Immunotherapy Story

"Ringing the bell signifies the end of your treatment. For me, that signaled my path to a new life."

When standard treatment wasn't working, K.C. looked for different options for stage 4 lung cancer and received a PD-1 checkpoint immunotherapy on compassionate use. She responded immediately. As of June 2020, K.C. has had no evidence of disease for over four years.

K.C. was initially diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in 2015. After receiving chemotherapy and radiation, her health care team was not optimistic—her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and progressed to stage 4. K.C. sought a second opinion in Houston and began treatment of nivolumab (Opdivo®), a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor. She responded to the immunotherapy immediately, and her recent scans show no evidence of disease. Today K.C. continues to work full-time and experiences new adventures with her two daughters, Avery and Anna, and her husband, Joey.

Rikki HeadshotDrumming Back Oral Cancer: Rikki Rockett's Immunotherapy Story

"You'll never be too old to rock a stage."

When oral cancer threatened to leave Rikki Rockett speechless, the drummer for Poison found an immunotherapy clinical trial with a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor. As of June 2020, Rikki has been cancer-free for over three years.

In June 2015, Rikki visited his primary care doctor with a sore throat. His doctor found a small tumor at the base of his tongue, and Rikki learned he had human papillomavirus (HPV)-related oral cancer. He endured nine rounds of chemotherapy and 37 sessions of radiation therapy. The tumor initially responded, but returned three months later, spreading to his lymph nodes. Rikki then saw Dr. Ezra Cohen at UCSD Moores Cancer Center, who helped him enroll in a clinical trial of pembrolizumab (Keytruda®). Rikki’s tumor responded immediately. Just over two months into the trial, a scan revealed that his tumor had shrunk over 90%. Today Rikki is cancer-free, enjoys playing with his band, Poison, caring for his two children, and practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Immunotherapy patient stories are part of the Cancer Research Institute's Answer to Cancer Patient Education Program. We're proud to premiere these five videos during our Seventh Annual Cancer Immunotherapy Month.

Discover more immunotherapy patient stories in our ImmunoCommunity

*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.