Magazine article Newsweek

My Life as a Guinea Pig: Clinical Trials Are Inherently Risky, but One Saved Me

Magazine article Newsweek

My Life as a Guinea Pig: Clinical Trials Are Inherently Risky, but One Saved Me

Article excerpt

On a sunny San Diego afternoon in the winter of 1996, I was jogging on the beach near my home when I reached up to scratch my neck and discovered a walnut-size lump. Ignoring it for a few weeks, I finally decided a few days before Christmas to have an ear, nose and throat doctor check it out. Really, the visit was just to appease family and friends, because I knew it was nothing. I was wrong. By New Year's Day, the ENT doc had transferred me down the hall to an oncologist, who gave me the unthinkable diagnosis: an advanced case of low-grade, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a treatable yet incurable cancer.

As a nonsmoking, athletic and, until then, almost impossibly healthy 35-year-old, I couldn't believe I had cancer. Sometimes I still can't. It's the kind of thing that happens only to other people. But believe it or not, I'm still smiling, still working, still enjoying life. I am a cancer survivor--largely thanks to a clinical trial.

My oncologist insisted my only option was a chemotherapy regimen called CHOP, which stands for something I don't care to recall. I went through five brutal rounds of it in 1997. The chemo did put me in remission, but it just about killed me. So when the cancer recurred in 1999, I enrolled in a clinical trial of a new drug at the Hoag Cancer Center in Newport Beach, Calif.

Called Bexxar, the drug is a monoclonal antibody vaccine that contains a radioisotope. The antibody homes in on tumor cells, and the isotope kills them with radiation; normal tissue is apparently spared. The trial was paid for by the biotech company, so I didn't have to worry about insurance. The folks at Hoag sent me tons of paperwork, most of which I tossed into the trash. My oncologist encouraged me to read every page, but I had neither the time nor the inclination to read volumes of material. I just wanted to get well. All I really cared to know was the drug's potential side effects and how effective it had been in earlier trials. …

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