CLEVELAND – Denise and Jim Keenan recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary, but this milestone has taken on an even greater meaning since Denise was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in 2009.
Denise, 66, of Youngstown, told WJW that she had "started getting used to the idea of not being here anymore."
She went in and out of remission several times over the past 10 years, with a variety of failed cancer treatments.
"She's convinced me probably 100 times over the years that she was a goner," Jim said.
PET scans confirmed cancer was spreading throughout her lungs and chest, but in August, she had a major breakthrough, thanks to a therapy being studied in clinical trials. Just 30 days after Denise became the first CAR T-cell patient at Seidman Cancer Center at University Hospitals, doctors said they couldn't find any trace of cancer.
"The jury's still out as far as how long this is gonna last, because they just don't have a lot of long-term data," said Dr. Paolo Caimi.
The trial is delivered in a single syringe and re-engineers T-cells to seek out and destroy the cancer cells.
"We collect the patient's cells. They get modified with a particular virus that introduces the genetic modification over 12 to 14 days," said Doctor Caimi, the trial's lead investigator.
Keenan knows the future isn't guaranteed, but the wife, mother and sister said she isn't worried.
"The future is unknown, so just enjoy the moment," Keenan said. "I think you're a lot happier if you can do that."
Doctors said they still don't know exactly why some people respond better to CAR T-cells than others since the trial is still in the very early stages, but they said the new treatment is very promising, especially for cancers of the blood and organs.