If there’s one thing Nancy Arneson has, it’s hope.
Metaphorically, and literally. She has a multicolored, butterfly covered cane she’s affectionately named Hope.
The cane acts as a guiding hand wherever she goes: the store to grab sour candy, the kitchen to make her famous roast, or through the halls of the Sanford Health oncology department.
Diagnosed with aggressive cancer
Arneson was diagnosed with stage four metastatic small cell lung cancer roughly two years ago.
“It started in my lung and moved into my organs and bones,” she said.
From the get-go, she started working with Christopher Sumey, M.D., a specialist in hematology and medical oncology at Sanford Health.
Dr. Sumey and Arneson attacked the cancer with everything they could. However, the severity of the cancer made it tough to tackle.
“We had reached a point where there really weren’t good standard treatments with impressive benefits available for her cancer type, or her situation,” said Dr. Sumey.
“When that happens, we have a conversation about continuing to identify treatments that may be beneficial, even if those treatments are still in development.”
First in the nation clinical trial comes to Sanford
Steven Powell, M.D., a medical oncologist and head of the Sanford Health early phase therapeutics program, talked with Dr. Sumey and Arneson about a new option, a treatment in early phase clinical trial designed to get a patient’s immune system to find and fight cancer.
“We’re trying to get the immune system to be able to recognize the cancer and attack it, rather than more traditional chemotherapy, which attacks any cell that’s reproducing rapidly. With that, you get the side effects because any cell that’s reproducing rapidly is affected,” explained Sherra vanDonkersgoed, a nurse navigator with early phase clinical trials at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“Early phase” is the official term, but that’s an understatement: Nancy Arneson was the first patient in the United States enrolled in this study.
“I don’t know if I’m a celebrity or a guinea pig,” laughed Arneson, who takes the pills at the start of the day as her treatment regimen.
She has been enrolled in the study and taking the medicine since June. She comes in for scans every nine weeks, looking to see how her cancer is responding to the treatment.
Today’s clinical trial, tomorrow’s care
Staci Vogel is a senior clinical research coordinator at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls. She said this study being in the Midwest, and at Sanford Health, speaks volumes to the work being done at Sanford Research.
“We’re doing exciting things. We’re always looking for opportunities for potential treatments for patients. We always say that today’s clinical trial could be tomorrow’s standard of care,” said Vogel. “So, it’s pretty exciting that we’re able to give these patients an opportunity to take these medications.”
Offering this treatment in the Midwest, when clinical trials like this are often done in the more populated areas of the coasts, illuminates just how invested Sanford Health is in its patients, said Dr. Sumey.
“It’s really important for patients to have an option like this here,” he said. “When we talk to other people around the country, they’re just astonished at what is going on here in Sioux Falls, that we have a robust program like this, and that we’re able to help a lot of patients find potential new treatment options. And we’re doing it efficiently and taking care of patients. We have a good system developed here.”
Arneson is on this treatment for the foreseeable future.
However long she’s on it, and however her cancer responds, she’ll always keep one thing: hope.
“Where there is life, there is hope,” she said. “So don’t give up.”
- Early-phase cancer treatments available at Sanford Health
- Podcast: Fighting cancer with personalized medicine
- NIH grants $6.2M for cancer studies at Sanford Research