Clinical trials have offered Kathy Chytka opportunities and provided additional resources to manage the cancer in both her lungs and abdomen.
“For me, this is a chance,” says Kathy.
“I had no other options at one point when I first started the first clinical trial. And hey, I mean maybe it may not help me, but at least it might help someone else too, you know?”
In March 2021 Kathy had a biopsy on the lymph node in her abdomen. Doctors found cancer cells with a particular mutation, called BRAF, in her lymph nodes. And the cancer appeared to be expanding.
Kathy decided it was time to call OHSU and was referred to Dr. Kyaw Thein, a medical oncologist specializing in Phase 1 clinical trials.
Clinical trials are research studies that test how well new medicines or treatments work in people. Each study answers scientific questions and tries to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat diseases like cancer.
“I told them the treatments that I was working on, and Dr. Thein said they thought they might have some trials for me. And that’s when I started the first trial,” said Kathy.
Unfortunately for Kathy, the first trial was unable to stop her lymph nodes from growing, which now had begun to grow exponentially.
“I was going to talk to my doctor down here in McMinnville about starting the BRAF pills [a therapy targeting the BRAF mutation]. And then I got a notification that they were $5,000 a month,” Kathy recalled.
When one door closes, another opens.
In Kathy’s case, it was in the form of a Phase 1-2 clinical trial led by Dr. Shivaani Kummar, the co-director of the Center for Experimental Therapeutics at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.
The opportunity seemed like the perfect fit.
“It was the second phase and she [Dr. Kummar] said they had been having some good results,” Kathy said.
“Actually, I had the markers for the cancer in my lungs, and where it had spread in my abdomen. This clinical trial had a drug that worked on markers specific for cancer in both places. So, I jumped into the trial, had my first CT scan, and it seems to be helping my lymph nodes.”
Participation in any clinical trial can bring up a range of emotions. There can be a lot of unknowns, uncertainties.
Will this work? Or will it be time to go back to square one?
It takes trust and a support system, among other things, to navigate the emotions of a cancer diagnosis.
One constant in this process for Kathy has been her team at OHSU.
“Everybody up there has been fabulous,” says Kathy.
“I have no complaints, and they’ve been on top of everything. Very helpful and just super supportive. Dr. Kummar’s just fantastic and so is Sandra Youngworth, the nurse practitioner, as well as Vicki Abtin, clinical research coordinator. They’re all wonderful up there.”
How important is it to have access to all of these early-phase clinical trials?
“Oh, I think it’s fantastic. I mean, that’s how we get to all the standard of care. You can’t have standard of care without the trials. You have to have somebody do the trials,” says Kathy.
“At this point, I look at it as an opportunity that whether they help for three or four months, it’s three- or four-months longevity.”