There’s a misconception that, when a cancer patient is offered a clinical trial, the end is near. But multiple myeloma survivor Alan Brandon is living proof dispelling that notion.
When first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, doctors gave him two to six years to live.
That was in 2003, more than 18 years ago.
Thanks to clinical trials, he’s still here. He’s gotten more time with his wife to travel the world, before the pandemic hit. They’ve been to Europe, New Zealand, Mexico and multiple national parks. They even took a nine-country cruise in the Caribbean islands a few years ago.
“I’ve had no limitations with my life,” he says.
Brandon credits that success to clinical trials, having enrolled in a few since coming to Wilmot Cancer Institute for care almost two decades ago. He’s also grateful for the clinical trials volunteers who came before him, allowing treatment to advance by the time he needed it.
“I received treatments where other people proved that the drugs were effective and so it’s not just my experience about trials,” he says. “It’s other peoples’ experiences and I benefitted from that.”
He enrolled in his first trial back in 2004; it also happened to be the first treatment he received after his diagnosis. The trial evaluated using two stem cell transplants, one right after the other, to see if it would improve outcomes. When his hematologist at the time, J.J. Ifthikharuddin, M.D., explained what it would do, he agreed.
“It seemed to be the best treatment for me, and I tried it,” he says. “And the side benefit is, it may help other people.”
In addition to that first trial, he participated in the “Harpoon trial,” which evaluated a type of immunotherapy for multiple myeloma. It helped for a while, but unfortunately, the positive results didn't last for him. Luckily, his team, currently led by Brea Lipe, M.D., have other treatments ready for him.
While he’s grateful he’s had trial options, he admits there are challenges. He has had to get some additional procedures, such as extra blood work and bone marrow biopsies over the years. But they were worth it for more time and the chance to help others.
“If people don’t participate in trials, we wouldn’t have the COVID vaccine, we wouldn’t have many of the processes and procedures that are considered standard, every day type things,” he says. “You’ve gotta do your part.”
When asked what he thinks everyone should know about clinical trials, he encouraged others not to buy in to that initial misconception about clinical trials signaling doom and gloom.
“It’s human nature to think ‘we’ve run out of treatments, we’ve run out of options, so I’m going to be put into a study and that’s the end of my experience,’ but it has not been the end,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s the beginning.”
Patients with cancer who are interested in a clinical trial should feel empowered to ask their team to help find one that would fit. Learn more about cancer clinical trials at Wilmot.URMC.edu.