Clinical trial participant: Why I don’t mind being in the control group

When I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (a precursor of acute myeloid leukemia) in July 2015, I don’t
know what shocked me more: the fact that my only chance for a cure was
a bone marrow transplant, or that because I was
75, my “advanced” age disqualified me from receiving one.

Then I discovered that my insurance provider would consider covering
transplants for patients over age 65 — but only if they met certain
fitness criteria, and the transplants took place as part of clinical trials at a certified institution.

Since I’d been playing squash competitively for years, I knew I
could meet the health requirements. So, I began researching hospitals.
As an economist, I like somebody with experience. And when I read
about the incredible work Richard Champlin,
M.D.
, was doing in this area — and the fact that MD Anderson performs about 850 stem cell transplants a year — I called to make
an appointment.

How I’m contributing to cancer-fighting science

I participated in two different clinical trials at MD
Anderson
. The first one tested the effectiveness of a
particular combination of chemotherapy drugs (administered in a
certain sequence) designed to prepare older patients for stem cell
transplants with reduced-intensity conditioning. The second one tested whether a chemotherapy drug called azacitidine (Vidaza)
could help prevent a recurrence if administered after a stem cell transplant.

I received the drugs as part of the first clinical trial, but was
randomly assigned to the group of patients that did not
receive the drug as a part of the second.

At first, I was a little disappointed. But the way I see it now is
that I’ll be one of the patients who prevents the doctors from
mistakenly thinking something’s going to help, if it isn’t. And the
only way to know that is to have a control group. So, I’m the control.

Why I chose MD Anderson for my
stem cell transplant

It’s been two years since my allogeneic stem cell transplant, which
used an anonymous donor’s cells to kill any remaining cancer cells and
restore my immune system. And so far, I’ve shown no signs of relapse.

I have to take a small pill daily for the rest of my life due to
chemotherapy-induced hypothyroidism, and I had a bit of graft versus
host disease (GVHD) on my upper torso for about a year. But other than
that, I’m doing great. And I’m now an even better squash player than before.

As patients, we ultimately have to choose the best place for our
treatment. For me, that place was MD
Anderson
. Because I believe in the careful science behind their
clinical trials. And everything its doctors do is designed to improve
the success rate of patients’ treatment.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.