Her doctor was excited, which made Nina excited. They high-fived and couldn’t believe the progress that had been made in just a few weeks. The clinical trial was already having positive effects.
Before her clinical trial success, Nina went through the standard treatments for people with small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). She was diagnosed in early 2014, and the plan was to try different chemo and radiation therapies.
But, after 14 months of treatment with side-effects, it became clear the standard treatments were no longer effective at stopping the cancer from spreading. Nina’s doctor came to her with a proposal: join a clinical trial at a nearby hospital — Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York
Nina didn’t fully grasp the significance of being sent from one hospital, where she was being treated for SCLC, to another one that offered a clinical trial. But her oncologist told her this was the best way forward, and made a call to see if there might be a clinical trial for her type and stage of cancer. Fortunately, there was an immunotherapy trial for her to join.
“I wasn’t scared at all. I certainly didn’t feel like a guinea pig. I felt like these teams of doctors were coming together to give me the best outcome for my survival. I went in with an open mind, thinking that if it gave me an extra 6 months or year I would take it,” says Nina. “In hindsight, I was very open to doing whatever treatment the doctors recommended, including the clinical trial. Their positive attitude toward the trial made me feel positive about it too.”
Her siblings were 100% supportive of this next step. They believed she’d be a survivor despite Nina’s silent skepticism that she would get to be one of those on “the right side of the bell curve.”
As it happened, it only took a few weeks of treatment to see positive results. And after three years on the trial, with no side-effects, it became clear that Nina was one the few SCLC patients likely to survive. She got much more than the 6-12 months she’d hoped for.
“It feels like a miracle. I have no idea why I responded so well to immunotherapy. When I asked the doctors, they had theories, but they didn’t really know why I was a ‘rapid responder’ either.
Not only did the trial improve the outlook of her lung cancer, but it changed her quality of life too. Nina’s previous plan included four hours of treatment per session and came with side effects like hearing loss. During the 3-year span she was on the clinical trial, Nina experienced zero side effects, except one. The joy of knowing her tumors were shrinking.
“I think the term ‘clinical trial’ is a bit of a misnomer and it makes people nervous. Clinical trials are just a way for patients to get access to the latest treatments. Doctors aren’t going to suggest a clinical trial if they don’t think it will help you,” says Nina.
Nina never worried about the effects of being on a clinical trial. She knew she was being offered another chance at survival, and that was a good enough reason for her.