Cancer is currently the second leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease. We all have a dear friend or loved one who has struggled with cancer — it’s a horrible disease that strikes thousands of people every year. In 2014, 591,699 men and women died of cancer.
The good news is, thanks to dedicated doctors and brilliant researchers, we may be starting to get ahead when it comes to treatment. Since 1991, the cancer death rate has dropped 23%. That’s more than 1.7 million lives saved between 1991 and 2012. This is due partly to cancer education and awareness — including what products and contaminants to avoid — and the development of new, effective treatment methods.
Traditional Cancer Treatments
There are three main cancer treatments: chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. However, there are other alternative cancer treatments, depending on the patient. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, oncologists base treatment plans on:
- the type of cancer (what part of the body is the cancer affecting?)
- The cancer’s characteristics (for example, how is the specific placement of a tumor affecting organ function?)
- the stage of cancer (how far has the cancer progressed?)
- the patient’s wishes. 
For example, if a middle-aged woman was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer with a 2 centimeter tumor in her left breast, her doctor may typically recommend a lumpectomy followed up with radiation therapy. However, if she decided she did not want to undergo radiation therapy, her doctor could offer a full mastectomy instead. This describes a procedure where the full removal of the breast happens and usually does not require radiation therapy if the cancer has not spread outside the breast area.  As you can see, it’s important for all treatment plans to work with the patient’s needs and values and that the oncologist has a good understanding of what those needs are.
Celine Ryan’s Cancer Story
Celine Ryan was a 48-year old engineer, and mother of five, when she was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. Her treatment plan was surgery, followed by 6 months of chemotherapy and radiation. She describes her experience as follows:
“Chemo was challenging for me both physically and emotionally. My life revolved around treatments and support measures. I had unexplainable pain in my neck and back that radiated down both arms after the majority of infusions that lasted for days. My feet and hands were struck with neuropathy, and my eyes became painfully sensitive to light. I was nauseous day after day, despite taking meds to prevent it. Juggling the kids’ lessons, practices, and performances with my trips to the clinic was a logistical nightmare.”
Unfortunately, after she reached the end of this difficult treatment process, the cancer came back — in an incurable stage 4 form. Her doctors prescribed chemotherapy to keep the cancer under control until she eventually passed away, but that wasn’t good enough for Celine.
Not willing to give up, Celine applied for a clinical trial of TIL therapy led by Dr. Steve Rosenberg.
A New Hope: T-Cell Transfer Therapy (TIL)
Also known as Tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy, this revolutionary alternative cancer treatment was seen to show positive results in skin cancer patients. Celine’s gutsy move to apply for this treatment, even though it was unproven, is what ultimately saved her life.
Here’s a layperson’s explanation of how the cancer treatment works:
When your body is fighting cancer cells, it creates white blood cells called lymphocytes — which target to fight cancer cells.
The therapy is simple: doctors take a sample of the lymphocytes your body is producing in its effort to fight the cancer. Then, in the lab, they create a massive, billion-strong army of these little cancer-fighters, and unleash them back into your body. It’s a brilliant idea, and it shows great promise in the treatment of cancers.
Celine’s story shows us why it’s important to take an informed and proactive role in your own treatment of all health problems. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, get a second opinion, or do your own research. After all, your cancer is their job, but it’s your life.
More About Cancer
If you liked this story about new cancer technology, check out the amazing story of these baby girls who beat leukemia with gene-editing therapy . Lastly, have you heard about Michael Buble’s beautiful son Noah? After being diagnosed with rare liver cancer, he is now cancer free! Read the heart-warming story here.
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