Immunotherapy Patient Stories

Samir Tanios

Other Cancer

Samir’s Story

In the late 1970s, Samir was exposed to asbestos while working for a construction company. Over 40 years later, in September 2018, Samir was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma.

At that point, Samir did not have stamina for surgery. His oncologist recommended he skip chemotherapy and begin immunotherapy instead. Samir was able to receive the PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab (Opdivo) through a patient assistance program offered by the drug company.

Roughly two months into treatment, and after some initial side effects, Samir began feeling better. He was able to go off morphine, and began to function and exercise as he had before his diagnosis. Samir recently retired and is now enjoying traveling with his wife, Martha.

Questions and Answers

CRI: How and when did you first learn you had cancer?
Samir: In September 2018, I had a chest pain and went to my family doctor. He thought it was pleurisy. When the medication for pleurisy wasn’t working, I went for an x-ray and a scan. The radiologist said that he saw some fluid around the lungs and he suggested to go see a pulmonologist.

I went to a pulmonologist at Baylor College of Medicine. She gave me an exam, looked at the scan, and told me that there was a little abnormality. She said that it wasn’t big and suggested going to a surgeon for a biopsy. We did the biopsy and discovered why I was ill. The surgeon told me I had malignant pleural biphasic mesothelioma, which is in the lining of the lungs and is difficult to treat.

CRI: How did you learn about immunotherapy and why did you decide to do it?
SamirAt that time I was diagnosed, I could not really walk through the door or go up the stairs. I had to use a wheelchair at the hospital. For this reason, my surgeon did not recommend I go through the surgery or chemotherapy, which would have been very hard on my body.

So that’s when I started doing research to find another option. The surgeon told me about immunotherapy, but explained that the insurance usually wants you to go through the standard chemotherapy first to prove that it doesn’t work before they allow you to use immunotherapy. He gave me a couple oncologists at Baylor to talk to.

Time was of the essence for me. I went with Baylor because they were fastest to get the immunotherapy for me. They found a patient assistance program through the drug company, and I was able to begin immunotherapy. So far, I have had a good response. I feel so lucky to still be here, and I appreciate every day of my life now more than ever. It has been a blessing for me.

CRI: What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?
SamirThe major side effect was diabetes, but it is one that I can deal with. You gain some, you lose some, but I gained more than I lost. So that’s where I am with that today. 

CRI: Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?
SamirThe response that I had to immunotherapy is amazing to me. My wife and I thank god every day that we are together. We’ve been been traveling. We’ve been on long trips to France and to the Middle East. I was able to walk and hike places. Other than the diabetes, it’s kind of like magic for me so far.

CRI: What would you want another patient to know about immunotherapy or about participating in a clinical trial?
SamirFirst of all, when you’re in this situation, they tell you that you don’t have many months to live. Immunotherapy is kind of a godsend to me, because my reaction to it, other than the diabetes, was not complicated. You don’t feel tired. You don’t feel anything. You feel like it’s just another part of your day. You sit over there, you get the immunotherapy through an IV, and you come home.

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