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Green Light Epiphanies: From Grocery Lists to Lifesaving Trials


Clinical trial ends, but friendships remain

In the brief pause at a red light, my mind wandered into drafting a grocery list: grapes, carrots, apples. As the light switched to green, my thoughts took an unexpected turn, adding "penny, table" to the mix. This peculiar blend of words, while odd, wasn't surprising. My brain was simply weaving together connections, threading "apple, penny, table" into an indelible memory chain. This trio became a mnemonic anchor during a challenging chapter of my life in 2016, nestled between two fierce battles with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of cancer that starts in the bone marrow — the soft inner part of bones where new blood cells grow. In AML, the body starts making a lot of white blood cells that don't work right. These bad cells crowd out the good cells, making it hard for the body to fight off infections and for the blood to do important things like carry oxygen.

Normally, blood cells grow in a controlled way, but in AML, this growth gets out of control. The bad cells can also spread to other parts of the body. This can make a person feel very sick because their blood can't do its job well.

Doctors treat AML with strong medicine to try to kill the bad cells and let the bone marrow make good cells again. Sometimes, they might also do a bone marrow transplant, which is when they replace the sick bone marrow with healthy bone marrow from another person.

AML can happen quickly and needs to be treated right away. People with AML often have to go to the hospital a lot for treatment and check-ups to see how they are doing.

I joined a clinical trial for an immunotherapy drug, aiming to stave off the cancer's return.

An immunotherapy drug clinical trial is a research study designed to test new treatments that use the body's immune system to fight diseases, including cancer. The clinical trial aimed to evaluate how effective an immunotherapy drug could be in preventing the return of cancer, specifically acute myeloid leukemia (AML). During the trial, I received this experimental drug to see if it could help my immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively.

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Each treatment session started with a cognitive check-up, anchored by the trio "apple, penny, table," followed by basic math and memory tests. These words, and the routine they were part of, symbolized more than just a memory test; they marked a pivotal moment in my journey through cancer treatment and research.

My decision to participate in the trial was influenced by my oncologist, a proponent of cutting-edge treatments. Being treated at a university hospital, where research was interwoven with patient care, aligned with my desire for the most advanced care possible. This environment, where doctors doubled as scientists, was precisely what I sought for my treatment.

Explaining my diagnosis and treatment to my young daughter, I framed doctors as scientists, echoing the stories of pioneering women in science we read about together. This perspective not only helped demystify my illness for her but also empowered me to embrace my role in the broader scientific endeavor against cancer.

Participation in the trial was, in reality, a series of routine appointments filled with anticipation and waiting. Despite the trial's eventual discontinuation—due to the drug's ineffectiveness—the experience underscored the iterative nature of scientific discovery and the personal resolve to contribute to this process.

Beyond the trial's scientific aspirations, it offered me a unique sanctuary. The clinic became a place of familiarity and comfort, a stark contrast to the alienation felt in other areas of my life. The nurses and staff, with whom I developed close bonds, offered a sense of belonging and normalcy amidst the tumult of treatment and recovery.

Reflecting on my journey, clinical trials and medical advancements evoke images of caring nurses, supportive clinic environments, and the hope embedded in scientific exploration. These experiences, marked by the simple yet profound memory of "apple, penny, table," illustrate the complex interplay of personal resilience, scientific endeavor, and the quest for healing.

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This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. CenTrial Data Ltd. does not take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. Treatments and clinical trials mentioned may not be appropriate or available for all trial participants. Outcomes from treatments and clinical trials may vary from person to person. Consult with your doctor as to whether a clinical trial is a suitable option for your condition. Assistance from generative AI tools may have been used in writing this article.