T.J. Sharpe was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in 2012, just weeks after the birth of his second child. Not satisfied with the standard of care treatments offered to him, he and his family began exploring immunotherapy. Two clinical trials later, he is living a full life, devoting the bulk of his time to advocating for patients in the pharmaceutical and clinical research world.
I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in 2012. I’ve participated in two immunotherapy clinical trials, and am happy to talk about my experience.
I enrolled in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center that consisted of Yervoy and TIL (tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, a type of adoptive cell transfer), two types of immunotherapy. I was actually the first patient to ever receive this treatment—inspiring the name of my blog, Patient 1.
I wound up being a non-responder, so I began a second clinical trial, this time at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale. I started pembrolizumab (Merck's anti-PD-1 drug, since approved as Keytruda), and had a noticeable immediate regression of tumor (46% in the first 12 weeks). One theory is that the delayed and prolonged effect that both the Yervoy and the TIL have was enhanced by the subsequent PD-1 treatment.
Immunotherapy enables your body and its natural immune defense to play a pivotal role in your recovery. Because of that, I have made significant changes to focus on getting and staying healthy, since it's my own immune system that is battling—and beating—cancer.
Being a public success story has given me the chance to be part of presentations on immunotherapy, clinical trial participation, and different melanoma platforms. They have been incredibly rewarding experiences, knowing I am reaching both other patients and the scientists, clinicians, and pharmaceutical professionals who work to cure them -- to cure us. If one doctor learns of a new medicine, if one patient gets the right treatment, if one researcher finds inspiration to work for a new or better therapy, then all the time spent writing, speaking, and advocating is worth it. I hope that I can affect more lives and pay forward the enormous amount of support and opportunity I was given.
I want to communicate to my fellow patients how important it is to be your own advocate, and take your health into your hands. Research the best options, and make an informed decision on what treatment is best for you.
I would also encourage all patients to look into clinical trials. It may not be the best choice for everyone, but it is important to know that cancer patients get at least the current standard of care, and have the potential to get new life saving medicines more quickly.
Above all else, stay strong. You are not in this alone.
Provide guidance and encouragement to others going through their journey with cancer immunotherapy treatment.
*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.
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CRI Fellow Dr. Tim Fessenden of MIT shared his day with the CRI social community on Friday, June 26.
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