CLEVELAND – Denise and Jim Keenan recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary, but this milestone has taken on an even greater meaning since Denise was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in 2009.
Denise, 66, of Youngstown, Ohio, told WJW that she had "started getting used to the idea of not being here anymore." She went in and out of remission several times over the past ten years, with a variety of failed cancer treatments.
"She's convinced me probably 100 times over the years that she was a goner," Jim said. PET scans had confirmed that cancer was spreading throughout her lungs and chest.
But in August of this year, she had a major breakthrough thanks to a therapy being studied in clinical trials. Just 30 days after Denise became the first CAR T-cell patient at Seidman Cancer Center at University Hospitals, doctors say they can't find any trace of cancer.
"The jury's still out as far as how long this is going to last, because they just don't have a lot of long term data," Doctor Paolo Caimi, a hematology and oncology specialist, told WJW.
The trial is delivered in a single syringe and re-engineers T-cells to seek out and destroy the cancer cells.
"We collect the patient's cells they get modified with a particular virus that introduces the genetic modification over 12 to 14 days," said Doctor Caimi, the trial's lead investigator.
Keenan knows the future isn't guaranteed, but the wife, mother and sister says she isn't worried.
"The future is unknown, so just enjoy the moment," Keenan said. "I think you're a lot happier if you can do that."
Doctors say they still don't know exactly why some people respond better to CAR T-cells than others since the trial is still in the very early stages.
But they say the new treatment is very promising, especially for cancers of the blood and organs.