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Dave Perry groggily opened his eyes as he lay in a hospital bed. After three seizures and six hours of testing, the doctor told Dave had a brain tumor.
His brain tumor symptoms began with his left leg tingling, then he would experience three to six headaches during the week, lasting 10-15 seconds at a time. The day before his seizures, his left arm went numb while he was brushing his teeth.
“I did always wonder why my left leg tingled for three years, but because my health was always perfect, I didn’t think anything of it,” says Dave. “I remembered that the left arm going numb is a sign of a stroke but again, I didn’t think that would happen to me.”
Dave was referred to Huntsman Cancer Institute, where he had brain tumor surgery. That’s when he learned his oligodendroglial tumor was malignant, yet slow-growing. The neurosurgeon brought Dave to a room where his care team would give him brain tumor treatment options and help him and his wife know what to expect. Joe Mendez, MD, neuro-oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and assistant professor in the department of neurosurgery at the University of Utah, walked through the next steps with them.
“At first we just waited and watched to see if the surgeons had gotten the whole tumor, but then what we thought was scar tissue, started to grow,” Dave says.
Mendez suggested a clinical trial that was exploring an oral medicine that targets a specific change in Dave’s tumor. In the medical world, a drug that attacks a specific change in a tumor is referred to as targeted therapy. It can also be referred to as precision medicine because the therapy or treatment is tailored to specific changes or alterations of the patient’s tumor. In this specific trial, half of the patients received medicine and the others received the placebo, and no one knew what they had.
“This is a global trial called INDIGO,” Mendez says. “Being a phase 3 clinical trial means that the results could determine if the medicine is going to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, meaning another treatment for patients.”
At the time Dave was originally diagnosed, his tumor was genetically tested and Mendez found it had the same alteration the clinical trial was targeting. Dave enrolled in the clinical trial, and saw Mendez every four weeks to monitor the tumor and potential side-effects of the drug. However, the tumor kept growing.
“Because it grew so much, they checked to see if I was receiving the placebo or medicine,” says Dave. “It turns out that I was receiving the placebo. Two months later I was put back on the study but was able to receive the real medicine. The last MRI showing tumor growth was back in December of 2021, meaning the drug worked!”
The clinical trial was successful because the medicine puts the tumor to “sleep” and keeps it from growing for a longer period of time, helping patients live more normal and fuller lives.
“Before receiving the active medication, I would catch my wife with a worried look on her face and tears in her eyes, but now I don’t see that anymore,” says Dave. “I’m healthy. I’m back going to the gym, living my active lifestyle, but my everything is my wife, kids, and grandchildren. I appreciate life more and feel added gratitude to other people. Things could always be worse than they were.”