Just as the COVID-19 pandemic was sending entire states into lockdown, Jill Bailey learned that her metastatic cervical cancer was beginning to break free of the grip of chemotherapy.
It was March 2020. Scans showed that Bailey’s metastatic tumors, which had shrunk in response to chemotherapy and another drug, were slowly starting to grow. A friend suggested Bailey go to Dana-Farber for a second opinion.
Her decision to take that advice would not only change the course of her treatment but also give her a new perspective on coping with some of the challenges of treatment.
Today, Bailey is enrolled in a clinical trial at Dana-Farber of a new drug regimen and her metastatic growths are steadily receding. She’s also taking advantage of support services she passed over during her first bout with the disease.
The trial is testing a combination of two drugs — tisotumab vedotin, an antibody-drug conjugate that uses an antibody to deliver a chemotherapy agent to tumor cells, and Avastin, which chokes off tumors’ access to the bloodstream. Since entering the trial in August, Bailey has had nothing but positive results.
“My scans are coming back great,” she says. “The tumors are shrinking, to the point where some aren’t showing up at all.” Two small growths in her pelvis remain, but they, too, are shrinking.
Aside from some initial digestive problems, the only side effect Bailey has experienced is eye inflammation, which was brought under control with steroids. During infusions of tisotumab, nurses pack ice over her eyes to reduce inflammation.
Clinical trials are undertaken to advance the understanding of cancer treatment, but not all therapies tested in trials prove to be effective, and investigators cannot predict how any individual will respond. Bailey’s oncologist, Carolyn Krasner, MD, of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber, is encouraged by Bailey’s results and those of other patients in this trial.
“Given the generally poor prognosis for patients with recurrent cervical cancer, as well as the low activity of available therapies for this condition, tisotumab vedotin (which is currently undergoing FDA fast-track review) would represent a valuable new treatment for women with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, if approved,” Krasner says.
With the change in treatment, and treatment venue, has come an increased willingness to seek help from others.
“After my initial diagnosis, in 2019, I was just trying to get through chemotherapy,” says Bailey, who spent most of her career as a special education tutor and lives in Newburyport with her husband and daughter and has another daughter who lives in Haverhill. “This time, I reached out for a lot of support and it’s made a huge difference,” she says, citing acupuncture and talk therapy as especially helpful.
The care environment at Dana-Farber reinforces that outlook, she says.
“My research nurse, Sarah Hindenach, RN, my nurse practitioner, Alison Hamel, NP, and Dr. Krasner have been like a family. It’s like having a blanket around me — they want to know everything that’s going on with me.
“There are a lot of people out there who care, and there’s a lot of information that can help,” she continues. “I feel like I was knocked down, but I’m not going to stay down. I’m going to get up.”