Another Chance at Life: A Prostate Cancer Patient’s Journey

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Topics include: Patient Stories and Treatment

Can a clinical trial make a difference if you have an advanced form of metastatic prostate cancer?  Meet Dr. Judy Wang, the Associate Director of Drug Development for Florida Cancer Specialists/Sarah Cannon Research Institute, and her patient, David Kensler.  Dr. Wang is on the leading edge of medicine and science, and David had run out of options.  David says, “Every day is a gift.”  Dr. Wang categorizes David’s response as “unprecedented.” 

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power.  I'm Andrew Schorr in Carlsbad, California.  I want to bring you the story of really leading-edge medical science and how potentially participating in a clinical trial if you can access that science that's right for you, it can give you your life back. 

Joining me is a doctor and her patient.  The doctor is Dr. Judy Wang.  She's a medical oncologist, she's the Associate Director for Drug Development with Florida Cancer Specialists in the Sarah Cannon Research Institute.  She's in Sarasota, Florida.  Judy, thank you so much for being with us. 

Dr. Wang:

Thank you for having me, Andrew. 

Andrew Schorr:

And her patient.  And this is a guy who not so long ago if you went back two years, thought he was near death, and he is joining us today from Michigan, but he's also in Florida, David Kensler, who had advanced prostate cancer.  David, thank you for joining us.  So let's start with this: How good do you feel today?  How do you feel? 

David Kensler:

How do I feel today?  Well, on a—probably better than I've felt in the last 10 years.  What I found over this journey of this six years since I was diagnosed is that it just a gradually taps away your strength and taps away your motivation, you know.  It's a grueling, horrible thing for anybody to go through. 

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  So if you're like an eight now, which is pretty good for a guy that's been through years of cancer treatment, if we went a back two years ago were you like a zero and like prepared to meet your maker? 

David Kensler:

Yes.  September, two years ago, so—what—not even 20 months ago. 

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  No energy.  Extreme pain.  And this was advanced prostate cancer, significant tumors around your rectum and in your body. 

David Kensler:

Yes.  It had metastasized.  I believe I had four tumors at that time. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. 

David Kensler:

I had run out of options.  The options were gone, and they tried radiation just to give me a quality of life, but that was really temporary.  And I'd run out of the approved therapies.  And, you know, prostate's pretty good, it has quite a few approved things, but mine was bad, and, you know, and so many men die of prostate cancer.  It's hardly a unique form of…

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  And there you are with grown children and twin grandchildren, and the idea that you were going to leave them was very real to you. 

David Kensler:

Absolutely.  It was a matter of time. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. 

David Kensler:

You know, I think you know your body better than anybody else, and mine was just waning.  I had this visualization that I—you know, when we think about our consciousness, it's that we live inside of this space suit, this, you know?  We live inside of this thing, and my space suit was failing me. 

Andrew Schorr:

It had holes in it. 

David Kensler:

That was the best—the best way I could visualize what I felt, that, you know?  It's like you get a leak in your space suit, and you run out of air, and well, that's just the way it goes, you know. 

Andrew Schorr:

Well, let's talk to Dr. Wang.  So by connecting with Dr. Wang with a referral from your regular oncologist, you were seeing and saying I want you to go from Fort Myers to Sarasota, not so far, and talk to someone who is running trials.  And you ended up getting the 20th slot out of 20 to be in a clinical trial.  So, Dr. Wang, what—what were you investigating?  What had you been investigating to see whether that could make a difference for someone being like David? 

Dr. Wang:

Well, you know, our sight provides between on average 35 to 40 different Phase I or early phase clinical trials to patients throughout really the state of Florida, but we act also primarily as a referral center for Florida Cancer Specialists.  And, you know, when it comes to early phase studies this is where—this is where drug investigation begins. And to assume that only certain drugs can work in certain disease groups or in certain situations, that really should be thrown out the door, because these are opportunities to provide innovative, cutting-edge therapies for patients that otherwise couldn't get this from their regular oncologist. 

And so when I met Mr. Kensler in my office, I saw someone who really had, you know, run out of therapy options, was very motivated to try something different, and you, you know, was certainly symptomatic, so we wanted to offer what we thought would be really cutting-edge, innovative therapy.  And so we offered him a combination immunotherapy study, and luckily for him it has really produced unprecedented responses. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Let's talk about that.  So I understand that he had metastatic cancer that even was in his, like, colon, rectum, extremely painful.  He had all kinds of difficulties, and you could feel that.  When he came back after just a few treatments, was it different? 

Dr. Wang:

Absolutely.  So, you know, initially at the time, one of his major complaints when I first met him in the clinic was that it was uncomfortable for him to sit for long periods of time, even 15, 20, minutes, because a big part of his bulky tumor was actually protruding into his rectal canal. And he could actually feel it as he sat down, and I confirmed this on examination. 

And so the next scheduled visit to see him after he had started the study, the first thing he said to me was, “Dr. Wang, I don't feel it anymore.”  And I, frankly, did not believe him.  It just—you know, I had just literally saw him maybe a couple weeks ago, and to say that a very palpable tumor no longer existed didn't make any sense to me.  So I did in fact re-examine him, and it disappeared, it honest to God disappeared. 

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.  Now, David, this is part of the treatment you had is kind of a very exciting area of oncology treatment now, immuno-oncology, to try to get your immune system to fight the aberrant cells, the cancer cells, these tumors that form.  And so we're all learning about science now, and you're one of the first guys to be benefitting from this in prostate cancer.  So the power of turning on your immune system to fight the cancer is really tremendous, isn't it? 

David Kensler:

Well, yeah.  We talk about these tumors I had.  If you were to sit on two dominos next to each other, that's what we're talking about here.  We're talking about hard-edged corners.  I don't know.  I always thought tumors were balls, you know.  And this thing was ridiculous.  And she said 15 minutes.  No, it was more like no minutes.  I had to sit on—I had to switch butt cheeks. 

But to have that response in literally less than a month.  And then my PSA, okay?  My PSA had been on a roller coaster for four years, going originally from 3 to 29-and-a-half in 11 months.  And then I had surgery, and then I had a pros—you know, a prostatectomy, and I started, and my PSA over that four years just started, you know, looping up and down and I think at the highest was like 113, 118.  And then in December, right? We're talking 18 months ago, my PSA became undetectable, and it is undetectable to this day. 

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.  Wow. 

David Kensler:

Now, to think, that was caused by a little bag of clear liquid, that's impossible.  That's impossible.  And to even internalize the fact that this was actually happening was very difficult, especially for about the first half a year.  It was like, ah, well, yeah, but, you know, it will—it's coming back, and I don't want get my hopes up.  And then it was that kind of a—it was great news but also massive paranoia that it was just a bubble. 

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.  Wow.  Well, it's so exciting.  So okay, so lessons for our audience here, okay?  And that is—well, first of all, I think very positive for all of us is that medical science, some of it still very experimental, is showing benefit to people.  And, Dr. Wang, I guess, I hope our audience listens carefully that clinical trials should be part of the discussion, that here was David maybe at death's door and now he's not. 

Dr. Wang:

Yeah.  You know, it's—clinical trials have come such a long way from what we used to think that they were, and, you know, the stigmas of not getting drug, or you're just getting tested on or being injected with toxic things, we're so far beyond that.  And what we're really seeing is that trials have become such a crucial a part of actually, in early phase trials getting them approved and this country, and so patients like David are invaluable. 

The responses that he's receiving, experiences that he's having are really helping to educate us as researchers and oncologists to provide the best therapies for our patients.  So I encourage all patients at any stage of their cancer, early or late, to consider trials, because not only are you potentially helping future patients, but you may be engaging in a therapy that will provide you with a response that is just like David's, unprecedented. 

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  Right.  And I'll just mention, I was in a Phase II trial for leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and I've gone 17 years without any CLL treatment. 

David Kensler:

Wow.

Andrew Schorr:

And that was unprecedented as well.  So if we can all get this kind of lasting responses.  So, David, from the patient's perspective with patients and family members watching, what do you want to say to them to maybe not give up and consider maybe participating in a trial? 

David Kensler:

Yes.  Well, obviously.  Obviously.  I will tell you my impetus to look for something was twofold.  Obviously, was the fact that I had run out of stuff, but also it was the success of President Carter, that he had had with.  And I just, I was at the point where I felt the chemo, that just pumping poison into me and hoping it kills the cancer before it kills the rest of me, you know, really wasn't the answer, you know. 

And I was looking more for a “Star Trek” kind of an answer, you know, where you just sort of rub a thing over the top, and there you go.  And that immunotherapy felt that way to me.  It felt like, well, yeah, the best way to fight this is to have your own body fight it, you know?  And—because it's working 24 hours a day, and it's already in place. 

And so the concept of activating and teaching your immune system that this stuff is not supposed to be here, is obviously, you know, the way to go.  I mean, I look at it like it's a gift, and I don't get nearly as upset about stuff as I used to do, and I smell the roses a hell of a lot more than I used to.  But it's getting to the point where I'm getting normal enough where all those things are starting to come back.  But physically I still continue to improve.  So that just reinforces how far gone I was. 

Andrew Schorr:

That's so a great.  David, I want to give you the opportunity.  We've got your doctor on with us. 

David Kensler:

Yes. 

Andrew Schorr:

And we got a lot of—well, thousands of people watch this.  Is there anything you want to say to her publicly and the researchers who work with her related to giving you your life back? 

David Kensler:

There's this mental concept that you've got to go to the Andersons or the Sloan-Ketterings of the world to get good care, and you have to go to these cathedrals.  You know, cathedrals used to sell salvation.  Well, cancer cathedrals sell hope.  And I would not give up my local team and any local people who know me—and I mean I am not just talking about Dr. Wang.  Everybody knows me, you know, because I'm that guy that didn't die.  But it has been so much better. 

I read about people that have to fly airplanes from Washington to Texas every month.  And to think that you could get this locally—and you could—and to think that you're not going to get cutting-edge care, that's a myth.  Look, I'm living proof of it, that the local oncologist, you know that has legs—obviously, Florida Cancer Specialists is not a little one-horse operation, but it's not a big, huge regional thing. 

And look at what's happened to me.  I mean, I'm a testament to the fact that your local doctors and your local oncologists can give you cutting-edge access that you wouldn't think was possible if you didn't know the game. 

Andrew Schorr:

Perfect.  So, Judy, just to sum up.  So he's very grateful, and this is—this is what motivates you.  So as a physician, as a researcher, how does it make you feel? 

Dr. Wang:

It's—it's invaluable, and it's what gets me going through the day and how I can in my mind balance some of the trials and tribulations of being a clinical trial investigator and the rigmarole of administrative duties, paperwork, teleconferences.  And, you know, yes, not every clinical trial patient has had his response, and so we do have challenging situations where we have to say I'm sorry this trial didn't work. 

But for those situations I'm also reminded how hard we worked with David and how he changed his life literally.  And it continues to change every day and every week that I see him, and, you know, that is a testament to this is why we do what we do and why we continue to work so hard to provide trials for our patients in the local community. 

Andrew Schorr:

Well, I want to thank both of you.  David, I want to thank you for—well, first of all, I want to celebrate how well you're doing.  I want to thank you for participating today.  I want to thank you on behalf of patients who will follow you who will benefit from the knowledge that comes from the management of your case in this clinical trial.  And Dr. Judy Wang…

David Kensler:

Yes. 

Andrew Schorr:

…you do work with the Sarah Cannon Research Institute and Florida Cancer Specialists, and your dedication to moving the ball forward in cancer medical science, thank you for what you do every day, Judy.  We really appreciate it. 

Okay.  Well, thank you so much for all of this, and I want to wish you all the best, David, a long life with your children, your family, your grandchildren.  And, Judy, you're still a young physician, let's cure cancer, okay?

Dr. Wang:

That's right. 

Andrew Schorr:

All right.  Well, I'm Andrew Schorr.  We have Dr. Judy Wang in Sarasota and David Kensler is joining us today…

David Kensler:

Thank you. 

Andrew Schorr:

…from Michigan, and I'm in California.  We're all together fighting cancer.  And I want to thank our audience for joining us and just remind you that knowledge and positive action like this, teaming with the right team and often be even experimental care can be the best medicine of all.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Page last updated on August 16, 2017