Like many young, healthy women, cancer wasn’t something Misty worried about. Yet, she knew something was wrong.
She initially was told the cause of her gynecologic issues was a benign cyst that could be taken care of by an ablation, but she insisted on more testing. "Know your body and be your own health advocate," said Misty.
An ultrasound and MRI showed the true cause: a tumor in her cervix. At age 36, Misty was diagnosed with cervical clear cell carcinoma, a rare subtype of cervical cancer.
Misty underwent a hysterectomy and was hopeful after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. But a year after her treatment, an annual pelvic exam showed the cancer was still present. In fact, the news was even more sobering. The cancer had spread to her stomach and liver.
The prognosis from her doctor was devastating: six to 12 months to live. That’s when her doctor suggested going to Moffitt Cancer Center for a second opinion.
"Harnessing the patient’s own immune system has the potential to become a game-changer for women with this deadly diagnosis."
- Dr. Robert Wenham, principal investigator of the study
At Moffitt, Misty learned some promising news. She was qualified to enroll in a clinical trial involving tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy. TIL therapy is a type of cellular immunotherapy which leverages the patient’s own immune system to seek out and attack cancer cells. (Note: TIL is an investigational therapy that has not been approved by any regulatory agency.)
In this innovative treatment, TILs are collected from the tumor during a biopsy, or surgical resection, and grown in a laboratory with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth. Once successfully grown to very large numbers, the TILs are infused back into the patient, where they actively attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. The patient also undergoes chemotherapy before the TIL infusion.
Misty remembers many tough days while she dealt with side effects from the treatment. She had to push through the bad days, remaining hopeful that better days were ahead. In February 2019, she finally received the news she had hoped for: no cancer was detected.
"I feel like I’m winning a lottery," Misty says every time a scan comes back clear. She is grateful she had the opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial, which in turn put her in remission. "Even if it didn’t work, I still would have participated in a clinical trial because it may have helped someone else in the future," she says.
Misty’s treating physician Dr. Mian Shahzad said her courage and confidence bolstered her optimism in trying an innovative treatment.
"Misty is one such patient, who through amazing courage and conviction of her own, not only embarked on a journey to defeat her cancer and achieve complete remission but has also inspired us all to attempt things which we thought once were not possible," said Dr. Shahzad, who was also a co-investigator of the TIL therapy trial.
If you’re diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, such as cervical cancer, it is recommended that you see a specialist. At Moffitt, we take a multispecialty approach to cancer treatment, which means that we have an entire team of specialists, as opposed to a single physician. The sooner you get diagnosed and start a treatment plan, the better your outcome and quality of life.
To request an appointment with one of Moffitt’s expert gynecologic oncologists, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. Our team specializes in diagnosing and treating cervical cancer and can schedule any appropriate tests with or without a physician’s referral. Virtual visits appointments are also available.