Facing Cancer Together: Read Jessica's Story
Shortly after her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June 2011, Jessica Johnson was told by her oncologist,
Biren Saraiya, MD, medical director for The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), that she was a candidate to participate in a clinical research trial.
The trial is designed to determine the minimum amount of toxic treatment needed in Hodgkin’s patients. Jessica would start out with the standard four-chemical course of treatment, and if that course did not have the desired effect, Jessica would be bumped up to a sevenchemical
course of treatment.
COMFORT IN UNDERSTANDING
The prospect of the more intense treatment had Jessica concerned,but her mother, Sherry and husband, Jason, convinced her that if it would help her beat the cancer, it would be worth trying. Jessica is not unlike most patients faced with an option to participate in a trial.
“Many of the patients who come through the clinical trial process are hesitant at first,” explains Arlene Rossi, RN, BSN, clinical research coordinator at CINJ Hamilton.
“They usually have two primary concerns: ‘I don’t want to be a guinea pig’ and ‘I don’t want to be locked in.”
Part of Rossi’s role is to explain the risks and benefits. “I want to make sure patients understand their care will not be compromised in the trial,” she says.
Rossi also explains that participation is 100 percent voluntary. “Of course we want the patients to follow through, so it is important we communicate that every experience they have during their trial is documented and helps us to move cancer research forward,” she notes.
Dr. Saraiya adds,“Clinical trials are so important because, frankly, cancer sucks. We want to beat it, and we’ve come a long way, but it continues to be a leading cause of death. The only way we find better treatment is through these clinical trials.”
GOING THE DISTANCE
To participate in her trial, initially Jessica traveled to The Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick every other week for treatments.
“Because of the distance, I would have to go to New Brunswick early in the morning, get my blood work done, wait for results, wait for the drugs to be prepared, and then get my treatment. It was a long day,” says Jessica.
When she expressed a concern, Dr. Saraiya started making some calls. As an affiliate of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, CINJ Hamilton was able to coordinate Jessica’s care so that she no longer needed to make the trip north to be in the trial.
“I wanted her to have the best possible care, as close to home as possible, Dr. Saraiya explains. In Hamilton, Jessica was able to make a quick trip to the lab on Monday to get her blood work done, and go to her treatment on Wednesday where the drugs were ready and waiting for her.
With her family by her side every step of the way, Jessica set her sights on overcoming the diagnosis, looking to her then-twoyear- old son, Joshua for inspiration. “He’d say, ‘Mommy’s sick,’ and kiss my forehead and rub my back. I am determined to watch him blossom,” she says.
Today, Jessica is happy to report that her four-chemical course of treatment has been successful, and she hasn’t needed to pursue the higher-level treatment. She recently completed follow-up scans and things are “looking good.”
Back to work on a fulltime basis and back in mommy-mode, Jessica says “I have more energy now than I did before I was diagnosed.”