Keeping Lung Cancer Under Control: Bob’s Immunotherapy Story

My name is Bob Carlson. I’m not supposed to be here and I am. And I’m not sick and I can do anything I want to do. I have non-small cell lung cancer Stage IV, that started in my lung and metastasized to my adrenal gland. I have never been symptomatic of cancer. They found it by accident. We were working, we were playing, and we had a really, a fine life. Julia got me traveling — she said, “Let’s travel.” I said, “well, we can travel when I get older.” I feel like they had an expiration date stamped on my milk carton. And it wasn’t 20 years from now, it was close.

And I remember when we got the diagnosis. I was devastated. I think I cried for several months. What is my life going to be like without him? I used to tell Julia all the time She’d be crying I’d say, you know, I’m going to die but it’s not going to be today Let’s do today. Of all the options the doctor offered me between taking out my lung, radiation, and chemo I chose chemo not because it was the best option. I chose it because it was the least invasive option. But my quality of life was non-existent. I wanted to die. So he said, basically there’s nothing more we can do. There’s no other treatments available that will work on this so they sent me down to Yale Dr. Roy Herbst. Nice guy. And Roy tried to get me into a trial down there. He says, “All we gotta do is biopsy you, “And if you fit the biopsy you’re in.” So the drug trial was supposed to be 300 people.

And I’m 301 out of 300. I didn’t know a lot about clinical trials. When they explained the drug that they were giving him teaches the T cells how to only recognize the cancer cells and attack the cancer cells. It sounded like a very good option to me. I don’t even know what the name of the drug is. What’s the number? MPDL3280A. That’s Genentech’s number for whatever the drug is. When did I know it was working for me? My first scan. You get the scan and the doctor says, “Well, that’s good news.” And pretty much ever since he’s been on the immune therapy it’s just keeping it steady. It’s not growing. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that he has cancer. At this moment I’m good. We went back to Saint Kitts and we’ve been to Mexico and Costa Rica a few times and Ecuador a few times.

Going down to Texas for the Spring Migration. Texas to go birding in the spring. He taught me photography years ago. It’s zen. You’re there, you’re at the moment the bird is chirping and there is nothing else in the world but that bird. We only have today. Everybody only has today and we’ve just been out living life. We didn’t think that that would be happening. I think I would say that for people out there that get this kind of diagnosis not to give up hope because there are so many people out there doing research. They’re looking for what’s going to work for the biggest amount of people and get the best results. It’s important that money is donated to the Cancer Research Institute because when we got this diagnosis I don’t think I had a lot of hope but now I have hope because here we are, six years into it and he’s still here.