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Clinical Trial Key to This Patient's Success

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NYT_VirginiaMThe New York Times article by Gina Kolata -- Forty Years' War, A Place Where Cancer Is the Norm -- made my heart swell with pride to be part of the M. D. Anderson team and my eyes well with tears for those whose struggles she wrote about.

I think about the thousands of patients I have had the honor to care for over the last 30 years. I wish Kolata could have met my patient Dorothy.

Flashback to 1979, I was a new oncology nurse at M. D. Anderson when I met this 38-year-old, petite and strikingly beautiful brunette who had advanced cervical cancer. Her doctors at home told her that she had only one year to live.

Dorothy came to M. D. Anderson searching for treatment that would allow her to live to see her 10-year-old daughter graduate from high school. She entered a clinical trial receiving intra-arterial chemotherapy using a then-new drug named Cisplatin. Dorothy received this drug for four months. It wasn't for the weak of heart. She lost her hair, vomited and was exhausted for two weeks after the chemotherapy was completed. Just as she began to feel "normal," it was time for the next round of therapy. Then the treatment regimen was complete. 

For the next five years or so, I saw Dorothy when she returned for her doctor's visits. We'd share stories about our families while she anxiously awaited her test results. After her doctor would give her the results of yet another "clean" CT scan, she would give us a hug and huge sigh of relief.

Dorothy beat her cancer with what I think Kolata would call "unconventional treatment." For Dorothy, this was a clinical trial.  

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