When Kitty Levan, 50, felt a lump in her right breast, fear kept her from seeking medical help right away. She eventually pursued diagnosis at The Reading Hospital Regional Cancer Center, where Kitty was infused with a healthy dose of determination to do “whatever it takes to live.” That grit motivated her to enroll in two clinical trials for her rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. It was a decision that may have saved her life.
“I should have gone to the doctor right away, but I waited because I suspected the lump was cancerous and I was afraid I wouldn’t survive,” Kitty recalled. Referred to Nick C. Leasure, MD, Chief of Hematology/Oncology, Kitty found him to be a compassionate, knowledgeable and skilled specialist. “Dr. Leasure is a spectacular doctor and I trusted him, my other physicians, and nurses completely.”
Kitty learned that she had triple negative breast cancer—a cancer that is difficult to treat and tends to metastasize. Initially, she was hopeful she would be able to undergo a lumpectomy to remove the nine-centimeter tumor in her breast, thereby saving as much breast tissue as possible. After conducting her own extensive research and consulting with Dr. Leasure and her radiation oncologist, Michael L. Haas, MD, Kitty enrolled in Clinical Trial NSABP B-40, a study designed to shrink the tumor with a combination of drug therapy and chemotherapy prior to surgery. During the five-week course of treatment in the summer of 2008, Kitty received five drugs including the investigational drug, bevacizumab.
Upon completing the clinical trial, Kitty’s tumor had shrunk to nearly half its original size. Research shows that triple negative breast cancer that responds well to chemotherapy has a good chance for a cure. Because Kitty’s cancer was very aggressive, however, she eventually opted for a mastectomy. Fortunately, a biopsy revealed the cancer was contained within Kitty’s breast and had not spread to the lymph nodes.
After completing the first clinical trial, knowing that her form of cancer had a high risk of metastasizing, in August 2008, Kitty enrolled in another breast cancer clinical trial being offered at the Regional Cancer Center. The treatment protocol for SWOG-SO307 is designed to help prevent breast cancer from spreading to the bone. It involves taking a drug called clodronate daily for three years.
“Participating in these clinical trials was actually a positive experience for me, thanks to the kindness and positive outlook of the nurses and doctors at the Regional Cancer Center,” said Kitty. “Their mindset was contagious and got me through all of this with an upbeat attitude.”