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Published on June 07, 2021

Judy's Story: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Clinical Trial

Judy receives life-changing news.

Originally from Kansas, grateful patient Judy A. moved to Connecticut with her husband and son in the early 1970’s. After moving throughout the state, she chose to build her family and establish roots in Stamford.

In 1994, Judy’s husband suggested she receive a physical for which was admittedly overdue. While at this appointment, her physician noticed some abnormalities in her routine bloodwork results. Upon further testing, he suggested a visit to an oncologist where Judy received some challenging news. It was here that Judy’s journey with Stamford Health’s Bennett Cancer Center began. She was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), a rare form of cancer of the blood and bone marrow, at just 50 years old.

Judy's condition leads to discovery of clinical trials at Stamford Health's Bennett Cancer Center.

After learning of her condition, Judy began to see an oncologist at the Bennett Cancer Center to assess her needs for treatment. At the start, Judy only saw her oncologist quarterly. However, after eight years, her condition began to advance, and she needed additional treatment.

“I called it a condition for the first eight years, because that’s what it was to me, just a condition,” recalled Judy. “But when I learned I needed to start undergoing treatment, I began to call it cancer. If you do not share that kind of news with other people who care about you, you can’t get the support you need.”

In 2015, after having received multiple prior therapies which had been working to keep her cancer well controlled, Judy’s cancer again began to progress. The team informed her about a clinical trial offered at the Bennett Cancer Center involving a targeted drug aimed to kill cancer cells potentially combined with a new, next-generation monoclonal antibodies. This trial was for patients with relapsed or refractory CLL with high-risk features. Although initially reluctant, after seeking input from her physician she learned participating in the trial increased the chance of positive results from 60-70% to nearly 85%.

In early 2016, Judy enrolled in the study and was randomly selected to receive both therapies that were part of the trial. Judy, fortunately, did not experience any serious side effects from either of the medications and remained on the trial until its close in 2019. In April of 2021, the results from the trial were published in The Lancet*, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, which showed that the response rate was higher in the patients receiving both drugs versus just one.

“Overall, Judy has had a wonderful response to this treatment, and we are thrilled her cancer remains very well controlled, stated Dr. Jamie Stratton, hematologist and oncologist at Stamford Health’s Bennett Cancer Center. Judy is now 77 years old and currently returns to the Bennett Cancer Center every six weeks to receive infusions to strengthen her immune system.

"I like to think of the Bennett Cancer Center staff as my family."

Judy has had glowing things to say about the Bennett Cancer Center team throughout her entire journey. “I like to think of them as my family,” she told Stamford Health in an interview. “The nurses are INCREDIBLE and even the people who work at the front desk are so friendly and caring. I never felt like just a number.” She was also impressed with the unique and genuine connections she made with the nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians: ones that remain today.

As much as Judy enjoys visiting New York City, she was delighted she did not have to travel there for this clinical trial, treatment, and care. Pre-pandemic, she enjoyed travelling with her best friend to enjoy her passion for Broadway and ballet, activities she hopes to get back to sometime soon. But neither COVID, nor cancer can keep Judy from doing other things she enjoys such as tutoring students for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.

Judy, like many others, was frightened upon learning of her diagnosis; however, she was immediately comforted by the compassionate and expertly trained staff at the Bennett Cancer Center. She hopes a story like hers encourages others to seek the care they need when they need it, to help them learn as much as possible about their treatment options, and provide comfort to those who have similar diagnoses.

*https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanhae/article/PIIS2352-3026(20)30433-6/fulltext

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