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They Saved My Life


Jill Kanzenbach is 32 years old now and married to her husband Matthew. After recovering from aggressive brain cancer, she considers it to be "a miracle." Doctors call her an "exceptional responder."

Today, her cancer's genetics are being studied at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in hope of finding why a trial medicine combination that worked so well for her, can be recreated to save future patients.

Saved from glioblastoma

Jill's Cancer Journey

Jill's cancer journey began when she was living in Nebraska, in 2008. She was 26 years old and started experiencing dizziness, nausea and severe headaches.

"I thought it was just a sinus infection," Jill said. "But one day, I passed out and was admitted to the hospital, and I found out it was something else."

It was an orange-sized tumor in her left frontal lobe. She had emergency surgery, and after two days, she realized her worse fear. Her tumor was GBM (Glioblastoma multiforme). Most people with this diagnosis have less than 24 months to live.

Her cancer quickly regrew within two weeks and she had a second surgery. Jill's physician referred her to the UW Carbone Cancer Center where she could obtain the best possible treatment.

"The UW Carbone Cancer Center was near my parent's home," Jill said. "So we moved to Wisconsin so we could have easy access to the treatment."

Trial and Trial Again

Dr Ian Robins recommended that she enlist in a clinical trial of motexafin gadolinium, an anti-tumor compound, along with radiation and chemotherapy.

"They warned me about some interesting side-effects, and they all happened," Jill said. "My eyes turned greenish as well as my spit." The drug made her heart rate and blood pressure go through the roof to an unsafe level, so the doctors stopped the trial.

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Despite the failure of her first clinical trial, Jill was willing to try another. So Dr Robins got her into a trial at NCI. This trial was to test a combination of drugs called cilengitide and cediranib, hoping to minimize the blood circulation in her brain tumor.

Out of 45 people in the trial, the combination worked for only 2 participants. Luckily, Jill was one of those participants who responded very well to the drug combination. The experiment shrank her brain tumors and reduced the scar tissue.

Jill is Declared Cancer-free

"I was declared cancer-free by Dr Robins in February of 2013," Jill said. "I am in complete remission now. I still go to UW Carbone every 4 months for a Brain MRI to keep my cancer in check."

Meanwhile, the NCI is studying Jill and others like her, who had responded dramatically and exceptionally to the clinical trial. They hope to find any specific genes that predict the outcome of the combination therapy so that they can save more lives.

"We are trying our best to determine why Jill responded so well," Dr John Kuo, her neurosurgeon, said. "That way we will be able to help future patients who have terminal cancer."

"I am thankful to Dr Robins, Dr John and all the NCI staff for taking good care of me. My clinical trial story is a miracle and I want to encourage others to participate in clinical trials for a positive impact on their health as well as society," Jill said.

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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.