In the spring of 2017, Donna had a small lump on her neck biopsied. She was at the beach with her six sisters and nieces when she received the call with her biopsy results: large B-cell lymphoma, a fast-growing, non-Hodgkin cancer. In October, after Donna was treated with chemotherapy, a PET scan revealed she was cancer-free.
Then, in May 2018, Donna’s cancer came back. She was told the standard of care would be a harsher chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant (SCT), if she was eligible.
During a SCT evaluation at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), she learned about an immunotherapy clinical trial that would allow her to skip the standard of care and instead receive chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, known as CAR T, which involves extracting a patient’s own immune cells, genetically altering them to target specific markers found on cancer cells, and then reinfusing them back into the patient so that the immune system is able to fight the cancer. Donna enrolled in the trial and received her first CAR T infusion in July.
She experienced a side effect called cytokine release syndrome and was in the ICU for five days. Donna’s support system, including her family, friends, and church group, helped her get through this difficult time.
The treatment worked. Over a year after CAR T cell therapy, Donna is cancer-free and has regained her strength. She acknowledges that the outstanding medical staff, doctors, and nurses at UMMC are the reason she is here today.