CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A Charlotte woman’s life was saved thanks to experimental cancer treatment. Four years later, she’s pleased to see other patients in the Carolinas and across the world are getting a second chance at life thanks to the same treatment that saved her own.
Dr. Robyn Stacy-Humphries is a radiologist in Charlotte. She is used to reading the images that often confirm news no one wants to hear.
“I work with a lot of cancer patients and over my life I’ve performed thousands of biopsies to diagnose cancer,” Dr. Stacy-Humphries said.
In 2011, she felt a lymph node on her neck. She underwent a CT Scan and a biopsy. This time she wasn’t reading another person’s results, she was staring at her own fate.
“I looked at my images and I knew I actually had lymphoma, and I knew that because I had hundreds of little nodes all over my neck,” Stacy-Humphries said.
She was fighting Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, an aggressive form of blood cancer. She beat the cancer twice, but in 2016 it came back with vengeance.
“The nice thing about being in medicine is that I understand all the terminology. But the unfortunate part is that I understand the realities. And this type of cancer at the time had a cure rate of 70 percent. Which is not bad, but it’s also not great,” Stacy-Humphries said.
She was running out of treatment options. She says she had about 6 months to live.
So, she started doing her own research, and found a clinical trial for a new cancer treatment called Car T-Cell Therapy. It was not available in the Carolinas at the time, so she traveled to Ohio to participate in the study.
“Right now, the cancer treatments we have are rather barbaric. We either poison it, burn it with radiation, or cut it out. So, burning, poisoning, cutting—rather barbaric—but you do what you have to do to survive. But in this case, you can take a patient’s own immune system, modify them, and give it back to your patient to fight cancer. How amazing is that,” Dr. Stacy-Humphries said.
Dr. Stacy-Humphries compared the process to donating platelets. She reported little to no side effects, and a quick recovery.
“By day 8, my lymph nodes were gone. You could not feel them. Some of them were this big and they were just gone, melted away,” Dr. Stacy-Humphries said.
She’s been in remission for four years and credits the life-saving research to her second chance at life. To pay it forward, this year she raised more than $263,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to further cancer research.
At the time of her treatment, Car T-Cell Therapy was not available in the Carolinas. But now, the therapy is offered to some cancer patients at both major hospital systems in Charlotte. Atrium Health treated its first patient with the therapy in 2018. Novant Health completed its first Car T-Cell Therapy transplant in September.