Lisa Cohen’s cancer battle led her to USC Norris physician-scientist, Dr. Preet M. Chaudhary, who is developing novel therapies that have the potential to dramatically improve the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.
How close are we to curing cancer?
The answer is tied to how much we invest in cancer research. The goal of studying cancer is to develop safe and effective methods to prevent, detect, diagnose, treat and, ultimately, cure the many diseases we call cancer. The better we understand these diseases, the more progress we will make toward diminishing the tremendous human and economic tolls of cancer.
This is exactly why Lisa Cohen, who had her own battle with cancer, supports the research happening at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Lisa lived a healthy, active lifestyle, enjoying biking, hiking and traveling with her family. However, at 46 years old, she discovered she had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood. With no family history of leukemia, the news came unexpectedly.
“I was completely shocked when I heard the diagnosis,” she said. “I did not fit any of the criteria or display any of the symptoms of a patient with AML. It was truly a frightening time for my family and me.”
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 20,000 people are diagnosed with AML in the United States every year. It is generally a disease found in older individuals, uncommon before the age of 45.
Down but not defeated, Lisa turned all her efforts to treating and healing her cancer. When initial doses of chemotherapy weren’t working, she pursued a bone marrow transplant as her next course of action. Fortunately, Lisa’s brother was a 100 percent match donor.
Undergoing a bone marrow transplant meant that Lisa had to endure an intensive conditioning regime that involved high doses of chemotherapy. This stage of treatment is both the most important and most dangerous, and often requires a six-week hospitalization. After the transplant, additional time at the hospital was needed to wait for new normal blood cells to develop and to monitor for potential side effects.
Following a strenuous 10-week stay at the hospital, Lisa’s blood counts returned to normal. She was in remission.
“It could not have been better news for me. I was so lucky and grateful to have the best outcome imaginable,” Lisa said with elation.
Lisa’s cancer journey inspired her to learn more about AML research and explore ways she could make a difference in the lives of others going through the same ordeal. With her two daughters enrolled as pre-med majors at USC, she looked at the research occurring at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. It was here that she met Dr. Preet M. Chaudhary, chief of the Jane Anne Nohl Division of Hematology and Center for Blood Diseases.
As a physician-scientist dedicated to hematologic oncology, part of Dr. Chaudhary’s interests lie in developing molecularly targeted and cellular therapies for leukemias, lymphomas, multiple myeloma and solid tumors. Lisa was most impressed by Dr. Chaudhary’s work in CAR T-cell therapy. This is a promising new way to get the patient’s immune system to fight leukemia in a more streamlined process than the current therapies used today. In clinical trials, CAR T-cell therapy has shown impressive results, often helping as many as 90 percent of patients and saving people who would otherwise die from their cancer.
Lisa was so encouraged by Dr. Chaudhary’s work that she decided to support his research philanthropically.
“We’re at the precipice of seeing huge breakthroughs,” Lisa said. “In speaking with Dr. Chaudhary, I was so inspired and motivated by how his research is going to change the treatment of AML from the way I was treated. I am hopeful for what is to come for future AML patients.”
Lisa has been in remission for two years and is overjoyed to be back to the outdoor activities she cherishes most.
Donors like Lisa and her family are the driving force behind the cancer-fighting therapies and pioneering research happening at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. Thanks to their continued support, along with the support of many others, we are able to provide targeted, personalized care to countless patients and their families.