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Mother Continuing to Thrive, Cancer-Free

I am so incredibly proud to say that my mom is continuing to thrive, cancer-free. The words still seem foreign to me—‘cancer’ still pulls my heart to my throat, but then it’s the ‘free’ that really catches my breath. It makes me believe in the healing power of love, positivity, and honestly—medicine.

My mom, Terry, officially completed the two-year treatment portion of her clinical trial earlier this summer and will continue to see her doctor regularly and receive follow-up care.

My mom and I sat down together to talk a bit more about her experience.

Can you tell me about where you are now in your journey?

I am still part of the clinical trial but I am not receiving any medication. I’m just checking in with my doctors every three months for blood work, an office visit, and a CT scan.

How are you feeling?

I’m feeling good! I’m trying to stay active. I no longer have the nausea I was feeling before, which I believe was caused by the medication I was taking while on the trial. I now have more energy than I had before.

What has your overall experience been with the trial so far?

I feel like the trial was a blessing—I was very fortunate to be a part of it. Because of the trial, I truly believe I am in remission. I had some lesions appear on my scans before the trial started, and although they weren’t believed to be cancerous, since treatment on the trial, they have disappeared. I can’t help but think it was related. And now, truly nothing [no lesions or tumors] have been left behind.

I’ve had so much support through the trial—it was reassuring to have more people keeping an eye on me. They were always available if I wasn’t feeling well or had any concerns. I would reach out to my care team through the MyJeffersonHealth patient portal if I had a question, and someone would respond within a day. It was very reassuring to know that they were watching out for me. There was a lot of compassion and empathy throughout the hospital. Everyone was always making sure I was comfortable. I really felt like everyone cared.

By taking part in a trial, I had the opportunity to be exposed to treatment that wouldn’t have been available to me otherwise. Because of the close care of my team, my symptoms of nausea were easily managed with medication and monitored often, as well as my energy levels.

My gynecological oncologist even gave me his cell phone number. I was able to reach him with any questions or concerns about my scans or bloodwork results, and he was immediately responsive.

Do you think there was a benefit to being treated at a university hospital?

I had a lot of confidence in the care I was receiving because of where I was receiving it. My doctor brought the idea of a clinical trial to me. There was no protocol for care beyond chemotherapy. If it weren’t for the trial, there would be no further treatment. We discussed it as a family. Because the cancer was so aggressive, I felt like I had an opportunity to prolong my care and my life. I believed that through the trial, I had another chance.

Thinking back to when Covid-19 started, you were roughly in the middle of your two-year trial. It must have been challenging physically and emotionally. When the vaccines were approved, what did you think?

I couldn’t wait to get a vaccine and my healthcare team strongly encouraged it.

Since you were still receiving treatment from the clinical trial when you were vaccinated, did you experience any side effects?

No, nothing too different from anyone else. I experienced itchiness in my arms and legs for a few days, but Benadryl helped and it eventually went away. That was only for my first vaccine. After the second shot, I just felt a little tired.

You mentioned during the last update that regular CT scans would bring you peace. Do you find they do?

Yes, I am still very grateful that I am being monitored every three months with bloodwork and scans.

You mentioned that remaining positive was a challenge. How have you maintained positivity?

As time passes, it’s easier to remain positive, and because I’m feeling good, I don’t even really think about it anymore. I just think about moving forward and remaining positive mentally. Staying physically active also helps me feel strong. I think that’s important too and it helps boost my mood.

What have you been doing to stay active?

I enjoy walking and listening to audiobooks. I love word puzzles, which is good for my mind. My husband and I have been visiting family and friends often which has really helped a lot. I’ve been making it a point to try to live my best life.

What would you say to other women beginning their journey, or even those who are somewhere in the middle?

Make sure you have a good plan and a strong healthcare team. I had gone for a second opinion just for peace of mind, and it really did help me. We made an appointment to see a prominent doctor, and it made me feel that we were on the right track with treatment. The doctor agreed with the course of action we were already taking with my current team. I realized that it’s not at all an uncomfortable situation to ask for a second opinion—it’s your health on the line. And the doctors understand that too.

If a clinical trial becomes available to you, truly consider it. You have nothing to lose by doing it. It’s worth your time and effort to be part of a study.

I would also say to allow friends and family to support you, even when you may not feel like seeing anyone. It’s important to be surrounded by people who care about you.

Remain positive and perhaps even consider meditating. Send yourself positive thoughts and keep your spirits up.

I think it was also helpful that during my treatment, I lived life normally. I still went to the grocery store. I wore my scarf. I didn’t stay home. So long as I was feeling good, I tried to continue about my day and my life. I know that my doctor really felt that it was important for me to do that—act as normally as I could. I was initially self-conscious, of course, but I did get through it. And once I pushed forward, then women began approaching me. A woman approached me in the grocery store who was just diagnosed with cancer and was asking about my experience wearing a scarf, and how I felt about it. It felt like I helped someone. It felt really good.

Terry is looking forward to volunteering, getting inspired by more audiobooks on her walks, visiting her grandchildren, and celebrating her mother’s 86th birthday with family later this year.

The GCS Family is so grateful to Terry and her daughter, Nicole, for sharing her inspirational journey.