Jan. 18, 2017 | Eighteen years ago, Gail Clayton received news that changed her life. Looking back, she says finding out she had breast cancer marked the beginning of new perspectives.
“When I was first diagnosed with cancer, it wasn’t the end of life as so many people think. To me, it was the beginning of life.”
Clayton and her husband, Raymond, have been married 46 years. He calls UAMS one of Arkansas’ best kept secrets.
“I don’t think people realize how amazing this institution is,” Clayton said. “You become friends with your doctors and nurses. It takes a village and I believe that village is right within these walls at UAMS.
She had breast cancer twice and was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That prompted Clayton’s oncologist, Laura Hutchins, M.D., to refer her to gynecologic oncologist Kristin Zorn, M.D.
“Anytime we see a patient with a new diagnosis of cancer in the ovaries, fallopian tubes or the peritoneum (the internal lining of the abdomen), we think of a possible hereditary source for that cancer,” Zorn said.
Clayton and Zorn discussed genetic counseling and ultimately found Clayton had a mutation in one of the BRCA genes, commonly known as the breast cancer genes. Every person is born with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but women who inherit mutations of the genes have an increased chance of developing breast, ovarian, and other cancers.
Researchers’ knowledge about these genetic mutations has helped lead to development of a new class of drugs known as PARP inhibitors.
“PARP inhibitors capitalize on the genetic defect that’s already present in people who carry one of these mutations,” Zorn said. “It helps to kill the cancer cells that are accumulating DNA damage.”
There are three types of PARP inhibitors that have been FDA-approved over the past few years: olaparib, rucaparib and niraparib. Clayton is a part of a clinical trial that includes her taking olaparib.
“With PARP inhibitors, we first focused on people who carry a BRCA or similar mutation. We’re now finding many patients with ovarian cancer who do not have a mutation are responding to the drugs.”
Another advantage of this new class of drugs is that they can be taken orally rather than through intravenous infusion, making it more convenient for patients. This works especially well for Clayton who spends a great deal of her time seeing the world.
“If someone says go, we pack a bag and go.”
Since her first diagnosis, Clayton says she takes nothing for granted and began living in a way she may not have if not for the illness. She and Raymond Clayton have made lots of memories abroad. Sometimes their adult son Randy joins them.
“We’ve been to the Baltic States, Russia, Berlin, Sweden…”
She’s responded well to the clinical trial and shows no indications of slowing down.
“…England, Paris, the Caribbean, Ireland. It’s been a journey.”
“Part of the reason I’m so passionate about practicing at a place like UAMS, is that it helps us bring cutting-edge therapies to our patients,” Zorn said. “Sometimes we’re talking about a surgical advance, sometimes we’re talking about an advance in treatment.”
Zorn says genetic counseling and testing has become a standard of care in some of the most common gynecological cancers.
“While many parts of the country are having trouble keeping up with the change in the standard of care, UAMS has a genetic counselor embedded in our clinic so that we can accomplish that.”
“The way I see it,” said Clayton, “Even if the clinical trial didn’t work for me, maybe it would work for someone else. I’m grateful for the strides scientists have made in treating this disease.”
This clinical trial was developed through the NRG Oncology cooperative trial group of the National Cancer Institute. The only access to this trial in Arkansas is at UAMS.
Feb. 17, 2017 | A Valentine’s Day surprise brought smiles — and a few tears — to patients undergoing cancer treatment at UAMS.
Thanks to the nonprofit organization Compassion That Compels and local boutique Altar’d State, 20 women were treated to a free totebag filled with items to comfort and support them while they undergo treatment at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
After watching her sister and two sisters in-law each experience a cancer diagnosis within four years, Kristianne Stewart decided to take action by founding Compassion that Compels. To date, the Louisiana-based organization has distributed more than 3,300 compassion bags to women worldwide, either in person or through its website.
UAMS patient Janna Laughlin received bag no. 3,320 during what she hoped would be her last infusion treatment for a while.
After being diagnosed in June 2016 with ovarian cancer, Laughlin first underwent weekly chemotherapy treatments, which later switched to monthly visits.
“What a wonderful Valentine surprise this was. You’ve made my day,” she said, opening the bag filled with items including a blanket, journal, devotional book, mug, organic tea, gift card, mints, notebook, Valentine card and pen.
Through her partnership with 37 Altar’d State boutiques nationwide and other organizations, Stewart is able to provide bags to any woman who requests one. Locally, Altar’d State, which is located in the Promenade at Chenal, donates a portion of the proceeds in September and October to help fill the bags. Manager Madison Bass and several of her employees were on hand with Stewart to hand deliver them in the UAMS Cancer Institute’s Infusion Clinic 1. They also were joined by Compassion That Compels board members Rosie and Leo Combe.
“I’ve never been in a chemo chair myself, but I have been a primary caregiver and understand the stresses and challenges that go along with that. You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely. That’s why we’re here — to remind these special women that they are beautiful, brave and never alone,” Stewart said.
Osteosarcoma survivor Linda Guillory was visiting the infusion clinic for a blood test when she was presented her compassion bag. “It means so much to have people you don’t even know show you that they care. You can feel the prayers every day, and it really matters,” she said.
This was the second year for Compassion That Compels to deliver bags to UAMS Cancer Institute patients. “There’s such a loving kindness here. You can just feel it,” Stewart said, adding that she hopes to return with more deliveries in the future.