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After Groundbreaking Immunotherapy Treatment, Utah Physician-Turned-Patient is Thriving

Read time: 3 minutes

Bret and his wife
Bret and his wife

The vision in Bret Boyle’s left eye disappeared. Everything went gray. After spending the winter holidays in Maui, he immediately cancelled everything and flew home to meet with his oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Bret had previously been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that starts in the lymph nodes and moves to the spleen. Upon returning home, he found that his cancer had returned. Bret, a physician, now found himself as the patient for the first time in his life.

“I began radiation to slow the cancer, which brought back my vision,” says Bret. “My doctors then recommended CAR T cell therapy. This treatment had just been approved by the FDA three months before for my type of cancer.”

Bret Boyle sitting next to an infusion machine prior to CAR T therpay
Cell collection prior to starting CAR T therapy in 2021

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell treatment, a type of immunotherapy, uses the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer. T cells fight cancer, but cancer cells can stop them from working. When this happens, doctors can take the patient’s blood and add CAR cells, receptor proteins that have been engineered to help T cells kill cancer.

“I would have probably died without it,” says Bret. “The cancer is relentless on the nervous system. There were a couple other treatment options that I could have done but I felt safer with the CAR T cell therapy than the others,” Bret says. Bret explains that though CAR T cell therapy was tough on his body, it was easier than a prior stem cell transplant because the recovery was quicker.

Bret clearly recalls the tenuous moments when he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2015. He laid on a medical table with his physician checking his abdomen for any abnormalities. It was then that they knew something was wrong. Bret had an enlarged spleen.

“Looking back, I had symptoms and can see now how subtle they were, even a year before I was diagnosed,” says Bret. “It started with night sweats and then weight loss.”

Bret Boyle sitting in a hospital room eating dinner
Bret at Huntsman Cancer Institute during chemotherapy in 2015

Doctors recommended Bret start chemotherapy immediately. “The problem was, I was the sole owner and practitioner of my private practice of wound care and I needed to find someone to treat my patients while I was going through treatment,” Bret adds.

After chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, Bret spent 100 days in isolation and doctors told him the mantle cell lymphoma was undetectable.

Three years later, Bret’s cancer returned and he went through CAR T cell therapy, bringing him into remission once more. He’s feeling so healthy that he’s preparing to go back to practice medicine part-time. Bret and his wife have turned their back yard into a huge garden where they grow fruits and vegetables to help with his plant-based vegan diet.

Bret says, “The best you can hope for with mantle cell lymphoma is a new treatment that will put you back into remission. The CAR T cell therapy worked for me. I feel very fortunate to have Huntsman Cancer Institute so close to me and have the opportunity to be treated there.”

Bret's backyard garden
Bret's garden

Cancer touches all of us.