Despite COVID-19 pandemic, MD Anderson Cancer Network enables patient to continue clinical trial

Like many people, Suzanne Damann has had to curtail her activities due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have forced the retired school secretary to avoid family gatherings and attend virtual church services. Local outings are limited to the grocery store, where she waits in the car with her dachshund, Nikki, while her husband shops.

But Suzanne is still in active treatment for stage IV colorectal cancer at MD Anderson. And, until now, traveling to Houston for treatment has been non-negotiable for the Florida resident.

“The timing of this whole thing has been bad for everyone,” she says. “But MD Anderson is really special: it’s the Taj Mahal of cancer care. And it’s been keeping my cancer at bay. So, we’ve been driving there every two weeks.”

When travel restrictions made it harder for Suzanne to travel to Houston to continue to receive treatment on a clinical trial, she was relieved to learn about Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.

MD Anderson Cancer Network provides treatment options close to home

Located in Jacksonville, Florida, Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center is only a 2-hour drive from Suzanne’s home in Ocala. And, because it’s an MD Anderson Cancer Network® partner facility, she can expect to get the same top-notch care there that she’d normally receive at our Texas Medical Center location.

“Once this pandemic is over, I’ll still go back to Texas,” she says. “My doctors there are the best and the main hospital is my comfort zone. But it’s good to have this option right now. It’s nice to be close to home.”

Continued clinical trial monitoring is important — even during COVID-19 pandemic

The clinical trial drug that Suzanne has been taking since January 2020 — fruquintinib — can be mailed to her and taken at home. But the clinical trial she’s been on since January 2020 requires Michael Overman, M.D. to monitor her closely. She needs regular scans and blood tests for him to gauge the drug’s effectiveness.

“My doctors aren’t sure yet if it will eradicate or just stabilize my cancer,” says Suzanne. “But so far, it hasn’t progressed, and some areas have actually shrunk. So, that’s great. No new growth is always good.”

Flexibility during COVID-19 pandemic benefits other patients, too   

Suzanne got her most recent check-up at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center on April 21. She plans to return to the Texas Medical Center for scans, blood work and more comprehensive office visits next month.

“I’m really glad I can continue helping both myself and others,” says Suzanne of the arrangement. “I’m happy to be a part of this clinical trial, and excited for the people it might help one day.”

A refusal to give up

Knowing that future patients might have an easier time than she has is very appealing to Suzanne. Since her initial diagnosis in 2009, she has suffered eight separate recurrences of colorectal cancer, with metastases to her lungs, brain, pelvis, peritoneum and adrenal gland.

Suzanne has had most of her large intestine removed, along with parts of her small intestine and bladder, as well as her spleen, uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. Her lungs, adrenal gland and pelvic bone have all been treated with radiation therapy. She’s also has been on nine different chemotherapy regimens over the past 11 years. This is her fourth clinical trial.

“I’ve been through so much and had so many things removed,” Suzanne says. “But I always tell people never to give up. Doors are always opening up to something new. Just this past year, the cancer metastasized to my brain. But my doctors did emergency surgery on it in April, and now, it’s gone.”

Learn about COVID-19 precautions MD Anderson is taking to protect our patients and employees.