My (so-called) Lab Rat Life

I’m officially a lab rat.

I signed away my precious bodily fluids, my tissue, and all the data that can be generated about me when I agreed to participate in a clinical trial. Technically this is called

2013–0918 (clinicaltrials.gov NCT No: NCT02034110)

which is a fancy way of saying it’s a “Phase II, Open-label, study in subjects with BRAF V600E-mutated rare cancers with several histologies to investigate the clinical efficacy and safety of the combination therapy of Dabrafenib and Trametinib.” Which is another fancy way of saying I’ll be taking pills designed to slow or shrink thyroid cancer tumors that have metastasized to my lungs.

Lemme say that again — it’s not lung cancer. It’s thyroid cancer. In my lungs. And there’s no cure.

Today is my first full day in the trial. I just washed down a couple of pills with a glass of water, only the dabrafenib (I’m in the group getting just the one, not both). To even participate in the clinical trial I had to undergo a series of tests. For those of you who whine about a single doc visit, lemme list just the list the first coupla days for you:

  • Visit with research doc, sign consent form
  • Blood work (needle)
  • EKG (resting)
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram (another needle)
  • Visits with skin, heart, eye, and lung docs. Skin was fun. Two female docs gave me a thorough look and when done, said I could dress and asked if they should leave the room. “Why bother?” I said. “You’ve seen everything now.”
  • CT of chest and neck (separate, because MDA can be silly. Lots of needles)

And that’s just to see if I met the study criteria, which I did. I’m now obligated to return to Houston and MD Anderson every two weeks for checkups, at least for a couple of months. After that, it’s once a month. Yes, all on my own dime. They keep a close watch on my eyes and skin, especially, given the potential drug side effects. I’m already sick of the Atlanta-to-Houston flight. With luck, some days I can fly in early that morning, fly out late that evening, and save on the hotel costs.

At some point, years from now, a study will be published. Instead of writing the research, I’ll be a participant, though of course not identified by name. Keep an eye out for it. I should insist on co-author status.

Why participate in a clinical trial?

First, it helps medical science find the best approaches for a condition. Yeah, I’m kinda a lab rat, a guinea pig, but this drug has been used in other types of cancers with some success. This is a bitchy point for me. Thyroid cancer, the so-called “good cancer” is often dealt with by surgery and, maybe, radioactive iodine pills. For some of us, though, that doesn’t work, and thyroid cancer is the ugly stepchild of cancers. We get the hand-me-down drugs, the stuff that worked elsewhere.

Hello, NIH. I know we’re not one of the sexy cancers. No breasts involved. But spread some of the grant wealth our direction, please. People are dying.

Second, this particular drug is a much better choice for me than the hand-me-down FDA approved drug for iodine refractory thyroid cancer, one that comes with a laundry list of nasty side effects. The one I just took with a glass of water? Not so many. Or so I hope.

So this begins my series of posts about my (so-called) life as a lab rat. Stay tuned.

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