World Cancer Day and the Hope of Targeted Therapy

Today is World Cancer Day and for Joe and Jodi Whitton, it’s a day to celebrate another year of life together.

In August of 2015, Jodi’s family took her to a nearby hospital to be treated for what they thought was a bad case of pneumonia. It was there that she learned she had Stage 4 lung cancer. The attending physician offered little hope, advising her to go into hospice care. Joe Whitton, Jodi’s husband of 48 years, was unwilling to accept the news: “If she wasn’t here, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d be lost.”

The couple decided to seek a second opinion.

Paging Dr. Takahashi

The Whittons turned to OHSU where they met with Dr. Gary Takahashi. They were immediately struck by the oncologist’s positive, enthusiastic demeanor and his willingness to take Jodi on as his patient. Jodi learned that she had ALK, a rare genetic mutation that would allow her to respond well to targeted therapy.

Joe and Jodi Whitton at their home in Newberg, Oregon
Joe and Jodi Whitton at their home in Newberg, Oregon

Jodi, who felt at this point she had nothing to lose, decided to try the treatment. She had already once experienced the benefits of a clinical trial at OHSU, several years earlier:

When myeloperifative disorder – a disease she’s battled since 1996 in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, platelets, or certain white blood cells – attacked her spleen in 2008, causing it to more than double in size, her oncologist at the time referred her to OHSU where she was enrolled in a clinical trial. The couple would drive from their home in Newberg, Oregon to OHSU three times a week to take part in a two year double-blind “Jakafi 2” study under the care of Dr. Kim-Hien Dao. Within a week of beginning treatment, Jodi’s spleen had returned to it’s normal size.

Back to OHSU

Soon after she began seeing Dr. Takahashi and taking Alectinib, Jodi’s health started to improve. Joe keeps a picture on his phone of two x-rays taken just three months apart. The difference is striking.

Today, Jodi is cancer free. “My lungs are clear as a bell. There’s no cancer to go in remission.”

Jodi is grateful that Dr. Takahashi didn’t give up. “I’ve been blessed meeting him. He’s kept me alive.”

Joe has nothing but praise for the care they’ve received: “What’s so neat about all this is the targeted therapy. It works. You’re proof.”

Jodi still visits OHSU every two weeks where she meets with Dr. Takahashi. Every five or six weeks she returns to get a transfusion for the myeloproliferative disorder. She remains hopeful for a cure.

The rest of their time is spent enjoying their “retirement cottage” as Jodi calls it and spending time with their four adult children and five grandchildren.

Jodi’s advice for new patients? “Stay positive. Do things that take your mind off the cancer.”