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Judy's Cancer Journey

“Since my original diagnosis of breast cancer in 2003, I’ve only called out sick to work one time. Cancer does not control my life. It does not impact my daily life. I control my life.”

judy-navigator (1)Judy is a 56-year-old nurse practitioner and 26-year military veteran who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, entered remission for 10 years, but then had a recurrence of her breast cancer in December 2012. Judy’s cancer progressed despite hormone therapy so her medical oncologist at Tennessee Oncology, Dr. Patrick Murphy, referred her to Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville for a clinical trial.

She was placed on a clinical trial for a drug called abemaciclib, which works to control her cancer by stopping its progression.

Judy has seen great success on the drug, which she has taken for nearly a year. Prior to enrolling on the clinical trial, Judy was prescribed narcotic pain medication to control the pain she felt as a result of her cancer, but now that her condition has improved on the clinical trial, she can continue to work two jobs, care for her family, travel and even started training for a 5k run/walk.

 “I used to think that being told you have cancer is one of the worst things you could hear,” she said. “But when you’re told your cancer is back and we can’t cure it, that’s the worst thing you can hear.”

Judy is on a clinical trial for a phase I drug named abemaciclib—which targets Judy’s specific type of cancer. Abemaciclib, like most inhibitors, works by interrupting the chemical pathways that allow cancer cells to multiply. This, in turn, means it is not a curative treatment, but it does halt the progression of the cancer and keep it under control.

Judy began her treatment in June 2014. She now takes a half-day off of work each month, during which time she visits the clinical trial providers. While there, they check her vitals, draw her blood, perform an assessment, give her an injection for her bone metastasis and help her manage any side effects. She also undergoes a CT scan every eight weeks. She takes the clinical trial drug twice a day along with an aromatase inhibitor, which stops the conversion of androgen to estrogen, meaning less estrogen is available to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.

Judy felt positive effects almost immediately.

“After I started taking the clinical trial drug, my pain is gone. No longer do I take pain medication, sleep on a heating pad, and come home and collapse on the couch. Enrolling on this clinical trial has enabled me to keep living my life the way I want to live it- with family and friends and the job that I love. I actually even started the ‘Couch to 5k’ running program; so I’m exercising regularly!”

 “People are actually amazed that I look as well as I do,” she added. “I’m very, very pleased with the response to this clinical trial drug. The only down side is the GI side effects. They are very inconvenient but well worth the result from the drug.”

What she's most thankful for, though, is her renewed sense of hope and the immense gratitude she feels for each well-lived day.

“Having cancer has really taught me that every day is a gift,” she said. “As a nurse practitioner, I know what I have; I know what I’m dealing with; and it makes me really appreciate days that I feel really good. It makes me appreciate my family more, my friends; and more often I’m telling people how important they are to me and how much I care for them.”

But one person in particular deserves special recognition: “I have the most amazing support person in my husband,” she said. “He’s been encouraging me every step of the way and has never grown weary of me saying ‘I just don’t feel well today.’ He’s been amazing.”

“My care team at Sarah Cannon Research Institute is very supportive; informative and answer every question that I have. They’re very concerned about your quality of life.”

Judy’s team includes Dee, drug development unit clinic manager at Sarah Cannon, who answered all her questions when she was referred, enrolled her in the trial, and reviewed the 30-page consent form with her at length until Judy was comfortable moving forward on the trial; Howard A. “Skip” Burris, MD, her primary physician at Sarah Cannon while enrolled on the trial; Jan, her research nurse practitioner; and Dawn, Judy’s research nurse that she meets with every time she comes to the clinic.

“Dawn is my primary nurse and she takes very good care of me. She tries to get me in and out as quickly as possible so I can get back to work as a nurse practitioner. She is very good at communicating and keeping me informed. I can’t say enough good things about Dawn!”

 “I am also very thankful for Jan, my nurse practitioner who addresses my needs at every visit. She is kind and compassionate- which is exactly the kind of nurse I want to work with and I look forward to seeing her at every visit.”

“My care team at Sarah Cannon is very supportive; informative and answer every question that I have. They’re very concerned about your quality of life.”