PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Marilyn McGuigan, Linda Malsh and Claud Lape have had different types of cancer.
McGuigan had endometrial cancer.
“I had several tumors in my abdomen,” she said.
Malsh had melanoma.
“They were shocked and I was shocked,” she said.
Lape had lung cancer.
“I have two young children, and wife. Thought about dying,” he said.
Over the past two to four years, they all got immunotherapy — drugs that help the immune system fight the tumors — with good initial results.
Fast forward to now.
McGuigan and Malsh got Keytruda. It worked so well, both have been able to stop their treatments within the last several months.
“And then they wanted me to ring the bell, so I did that. So it was like, pretty emotional,” Malsh said.
Both were worried about the cancer coming back, but so far so good.
“I’ve had two clear PET scans, which is really a thrill for me,” McGuigan said. “What do we do now? Should I stay off of it longer? Is it good to stay off of it? If I go back on it, will it work for me again?”
Lape has not stopped his immunotherapy because he’s part of a study. But he, too, is optimistic.
“I feel really good, I’m still doing the treatments, and uh, seems to be working, knock on wood,” he said.
The tumor is still visible on his scans, but it is smaller.
All three of them say side effects have been minimal, but one has been noticeable.
“Got fatigued pretty quick. You know, and I think the longer I stayed on it, the more fatigued I would get,” Malsh said.
“I can’t do anything for long periods of time. Because I get too tired from it,” Lape said.
“You never knew when it was going to hit. I could have a lot of energy, and then all of a sudden, it was like, totally drained,” McGuigan said.
When it comes to treating cancer, immunotherapy has been a game changer.
“Has completely shifted the paradigm away from chemo to incorporate these new immunotherapy drugs into the first line treatment regimen, so that’s a big change,” said Allegheny Health Network cancer specialist Dr. Gene Finley.
Sometimes on immunotherapy, new tumors will appear. But this wouldn’t be a reason to switch drugs.
“New tumors may swell, new tumors may come, don’t give up right away,” Allegheny Health Network gynecological cancer specilaist Dr. Thomas Krivak said.
As more information comes out on these new drugs, it appears after two years of treatment, any further benefit of taking it is minimal.
“I expect there will be more studies to try probably to shorten the duration even more,” Dr. Hashem Younes said.
McGuigan wants to golf and ski. Malsh wants to see her grandkids get married. Lape just wants to stay active.
“I just take each day as it comes, now,” McGuigan said. “I want quality of life, as opposed to quantity of life. I want to be able to enjoy my life.”