Section: Highlights

From Stage IV to Second Chance: A Life Saved Through Clinical Trial

09/27/2017
From Stage IV to Second Chance: A Life Saved Through Clinical Trial

Jamie Calver was floating on cloud nine. The 55-year-old husband, father and vice president of a haircare company was heading to the airport with his wife of four years for a belated honeymoon trip to Italy when suddenly, he felt excruciating pain down the left side of his body. The pain eventually subsided but lingered as the couple continued through their ten-day vacation.

Upon his return, Jamie met with his St. Jude primary care physician who performed tests and an MRI before scheduling him for additional consultation with a gastroenterologist. However, before reaching that appointment, Jamie found himself again experiencing extreme body pains while driving home from work. He was immediately scheduled for a CT scan and follow-up meeting with oncologist Giribala Patel, MD to review the results.

The CT scan revealed that Jamie had two large tumors on his adrenal glands, one of which was pressing on his aorta. They discussed surgery to remove the tumors, and Jamie went on with his everyday life, hoping that the procedure would resolve his health issues.

A week later, while attending Kobe Bryant’s last game at Staples Center with his son, Jamie received a call that changed his life.

“Dr. Patel revealed that I had stage IV lung cancer and that I needed to come in to see her as soon as possible,” recalls Jamie. “I was in shock. I immediately assumed I was terminal. That was the longest night of my life for me and my family.” For anyone, a diagnosis of cancer is terrifying. But for Jamie, his fears were further escalated by the fact that both his parents had died from lung cancer. Jamie himself had been smoking since he was ten years old, having grown up around it in American Samoa. However, he decided to quit in 2008 and had not touched a cigarette since.

“I knew because of my family’s history that I was playing Russian roulette with my health. Since I’d quit smoking, I felt healthy, I was athletic and life was pretty good,” Jamie said. “Then I got this diagnosis, and my world was turned upside down.”

On Jamie’s CT scan, Dr. Patel had caught spots, or nodules, indicating cancer on his lung, lymph node and adrenal glands. Some were as large as 70 and 78 millimeters. In going over treatment options, Dr. Patel suggested a clinical trial that St. Jude was conducting in partnership with UCLA. The trial was showing promising results for different types of cancers, and it was closing in two weeks.

“Between doing regular chemo and doing the clinical trial, we chose the clinical trial. I figured I had nothing to lose at this point, so we went forward,” Jamie said. Jamie underwent his first round of infusion with the clinical trial therapy. The weeks leading up to his results were filled with fear and anxiety. A month and a half later, Jamie received a call — but this call was life changing for another reason.

“My UCLA contact from the clinical trial told me that the largest tumor on my adrenal gland had shrunk from 78 to 35 millimeters and the other had shrunk from 70 to 29 millimeters. The one on my lung shrunk from 21 to 7 millimeters and the one on my lymph node shrunk from 18 to 9 millimeters. We were all thrilled,” Jamie said.

Jamie has continued receiving infusions every four weeks with the tumors shrinking after each treatment. After his 13th treatment, the tumors on his adrenal glands had shrunk to under 10 millimeters. The tumors on his lung and lymph node were undetectable. “I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be on this clinical trial. Dr. Patel told me that had I gone on chemo instead, it was likely that I would have only lived another six to nine months,” Jamie said. “Now, having just undergone my 15th treatment, I feel like I’m living 80% of perfect. I feel like I could continue that way for the rest of my life.”

St. Jude’s Crosson Cancer Institute, through partnerships with some of the nation’s top research consortiums, is a leading site for clinical trials. Clinical trials currently underway at St. Jude include promising treatments for nearly every type of cancer. By providing the community access to new therapies, years before they become publically available, St. Jude is helping increase survivability from even the most advanced and aggressive cancers, like Jamie’s.

Compared to where he was last spring, Jamie says his health has improved “to the point where people forget that I have cancer.” While the journey has not always been easy, his strong support network keeps him motivated.

“I sometimes throw myself a pity party, crying and thinking ‘this is my life now.’ Luckily, I have people to get me get through it, like my wife, my family and my friends,” Jamie said. “I can’t thank the people enough at St. Jude. Dr. Patel who never lets me join my own pity party. Palliative Care nurse Lisa Hanna who keeps me on track with medications and getting healthier. Everyone from the receptionist to the people who book my appointments — they all have a way of making you feel better, and not making you feel bad because you feel bad about yourself.”

To express his gratitude and give back to the program that saved his life, Jamie is raising support for and participating as a model in St. Jude’s A Walk Among the Stars Fashion Show and Luncheon in October. This uplifting annual event, featuring cancer patients and survivors as models, raises funds for patient care and clinical advancements at the Crosson Cancer Institute. This year’s event supports bringing the latest technology in breast cancer detection — 3D mammography — to the institute’s Kathryn T. McCarty Breast Center.

“St. Jude saved my life and they’re saving people’s lives all the time. I want to help them in any way I can, whether it’s raising awareness or connecting them to philanthropic individuals who may be interested in supporting cancer care,” Jamie said.

“I am living proof that these programs work and they need to be supported,” he said. “I never thought this disease would go away. I thought I was terminal, and I was just living day-to-day. Now, I’m looking forward to planning for the future. I’m so blessed to have the quality of life I have now, and I am forever grateful.”

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