August 31, 2001

Patient’s sister lauds Tennessean series, VICC

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Editor's Note: The following is a letter to the editor written by Marian George of Nashville. It was sent to The Tennessean during the recent eight-part series, "Inside a Clinical Trial" which detailed the struggles of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center patients, families, doctors, scientists and nurses as they work toward cancer cures through clinical research. It is published here with the writer's permission.

I read the Tennessean series "Inside a Cancer Trial" with an equal mix of intellectual curiosity and emotional pain. Too often we only hear about the doctors and other health professionals who are distant and seemingly uncaring. I want your readers to hear about three health care professionals in our own back yard who do care and who act on their caring.

My brother Ray, recently lost his valiant battle against lung cancer during his 50th year of life. When he was first diagnosed, after being misdiagnosed numerous times over several months, my normal life ended and all my energy was devoted to finding that one piece of scientific knowledge that would save my brother. This odyssey lead me to immerse myself with the language of cancer research and the people and places where the research was being conducted. I called every National Institutes of Health Center, the Mayo Clinic and the MD Anderson Center in Texas to name two. But I only received a return call from one. That place was the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, specifically, Teresa Knoop, RN, Dr. David Carbone, and Dr. David Johnson all working in the cancer clinical trials.

Although they did not know me, my brother was not their patient and his prognosis was not good, these wonderful people did not rely on gatekeepers and mounds of paperwork to prevent me from talking with and learning from them. They returned my calls, answered my questions and answered my e-mails.

Although invited, my brother did not make it into their clinical trial for ZD1839, now called Iressa, because his condition deteriorated so fast.

He died after 8 months of hell on chemo and radiation by an uncaring doctor in Florida. Shortly after his passing, my uncle overseas was diagnosed with lung cancer. A call to Theresa Knoop and Dr. David Carbone led me to the drug company AstraZenica in England who was now giving Iressa (an oral pill) to qualified patients as an alternative to chemo and radiation and without the side effects. With their help, I was able to get the drug for my uncle.

The research done at Vanderbilt on ZD1839 (Iressa) helped pave the way for this drug to give some hope to other patients around the world.

I just wanted to express my appreciation to the Tennessean and their writers, including Jay Hamburg, for running this series and to especially Dr. David Carbone, Theresa Knoop, RN, and Dr. David Johnson for the kindness they showed to me, a stranger to them.

In closing, I urge those who smoke, please quit. If not for you, then for your loved ones. And I urge the cowardly legislators who illegally and blatantly flaunt their smoking in our state capitol building, to take their eyes off of the tobacco lobbyists and visit the patients at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and look into their eyes.