At the age of 20, Kelly had to fit a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma into her college plans
When I entered Rutgers University, I thought, “This is the beginning of the rest of my life.” Little did I know that virtually my entire college career I would be battling cancer.
I was sick and had mono symptoms at least twice a month my entire freshman year, developed a lump on my neck the fall semester of my sophomore year, and after a surgery to remove the lump, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. I just turned 20 and I had cancer. I thought my life was over. I kept thinking, “What was I going to do about school?”
I couldn’t pull it together for a couple hours until something clicked and my emotional state took a 180. I realized, why am I going to sit here crying and thinking about everything that was wrong? I’m going to wake up tomorrow and still have cancer, so its time to move on and focus on continuing life and getting better. I went back to school that night and was in the library studying. I knew that I needed to strive for normalcy, or whatever the new normal was going to be. The next day I emailed my professors, dropped a class, fought for parking, and went on disability.
Not only has Irene Ghobrial, M.D. dedicated her professional life to finding lifesaving treatments for cancer, but over the past few months she has dedicated her leisure time to training for a half marathon in Alaska, to raise funds for cancer research. Ghobrial has trained with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team In Training (TNT), the non-profit’s endurance training program.
Ghobrial, a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) physician-scientist, has been closely affiliated with LLS for many years, having received numerous LLS grants for blood cancer research. Ghobrial’s research includes identifying what causes myeloma cells to become drug resistant and understanding how to treat premalignant cancer conditions before they become more serious blood cancers. Ghobrial also co-leads an LLS and DFCI collaboration, through LLS’s Therapy Acceleration Program, to bring clinical trials to local community cancer centers. She currently leads an LLS Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant, and also has a Translational Research Program grant. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial’s research here.
Ronald Levy, professor of medicine and former chief of the Division of Oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine, helped develop and test the first US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved monoclonal antibody against cancer for the treatment of B-cell lymphoma. Rituximab is now a standard of treatment alone and also in combination with chemotherapy regimens.
Levy is receiving LLS funding through the Translational Research Program for research into an immunotransplant therapy for mantle cell lymphoma, which tends to have a poor prognosis. Treatment include
s high-dose chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplant, which eliminates most of the lymphoma, but temporarily wipes out a patient’s immune system. Residual lymphoma cells often remain and cause the disease to recur within a few years. Levy aims to show that vaccinating a person with their own altered cancer cells can incite a powerful immune response against the disease that eliminates those residual cells. Phase II clinical trials are ongoing and have shown promise.
How would you explain your research and why it has such promise?
Our research looks at how the immune system can be harnessed to fight lymphoma. With this project, we are making a personalized vaccine from each patient’s lymphoma cells and we hope that when we add it to the current treatments it will keep the disease from coming back.