DUARTE (CBSLA.com) — Deana Campbell was 48 years old when she was told she had the same disease that claimed her father’s life.
She was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer that targets lymphocyte cells working in the body’s immune system.
“I had two small kids and I was very much ready for a fight,” the Inland Empire resident said.
Still, Campbell says she was thrown for a loop.
She and her sister, both registered nurses, knew it was critical to seek treatment immediately.
Campbell turned to City of Hope Hospital where she underwent five successful months of chemotherapy.
“The tumor dissolved immediately and I was in remission for 30 months,” Campbell said.
But the lymphoma returned.
So doctors suggested an unconventional treatment that takes a patient’s extracted lymphocyte cells and injects them with a crippled strain of HIV programmed to seek out and kill cancerous cells.
Dr. Stephen Forman heads up clinical trial at the City of Hope. Campbell was only the fifth patient to undergo this treatment.
“We were worried from the get-go. Even though a transplant may have helped her, we needed to try to improve her odds. So we proposed this trial to her,” Forman said.
The treatment targets the body’s T cells, a component of the immune system that fights infections or anything else that threatens the body. First, blood is collected from the patient and T cells are separated. Those cells are combined with a modified version of the virus HIV, which has all the disease-causing components removed and replaced with cancer-fighting genes. Forman says these T cells are given the ability to recognize and attack lymphoma cells. The cells are grown to larger quantities, tested for safety and injected back into the body.
“It gets pretty complex. We believe it is just the beginning of what we believe is an effective therapy to treat cancer in the same way that surgery, chemotherapy or radiation has been used in the past,” Forman said.
The experimental treatment and mention of the HIV virus may have seemed intimidating but Campbell said she jumped right into treatment and keep her focus on the future.
“There really wasn’t anything to think about. I know that if nobody says yes, we can’t build hope,” she said.
Although it’s too early to say if this is a cure, the treatment is showing great promise.
“It’s fascinating, exciting. It’s dramatic,” Forman said. “I mean the drama of seeing somebody going through any remission from any therapy, much less from T cells, takes your breath away. And you get to send them home.”
Campbell has been cancer-free for almost a year. After being a part of the trial she is confident she’s won the fight – at least for now.
“You put one foot in front of the other as best as you can. Don’t lose hope. Don’t lose faith. We are all living one day at a time,” Campbell said.