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Her Best Resort

June 10, 2019
Mary Elizabeth Williams Headshot 2

June marks National Cancer Survivor Month and Cancer Immunotherapy Month. This ACCCBuzz post unites both through the story of one woman's participation in an early cancer immunotherapy clinical trial. 

Hours after author and journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams received her melanoma diagnosis, she texted her editor. She had a story due that day, and she was afraid she was going to miss her deadline. “So I told my editor that I was just diagnosed with cancer, and I would be late with my article,” recalls Williams. “I also told her that I wanted to keep my diagnosis private, that I didn’t want my name to be synonymous with cancer.”

The following day, after she returned from her first oncology appointment, Williams took out her laptop, wrote a piece about being diagnosed with cancer, and sent it to her editor. It was published the next morning. “I realized that I didn’t know any other way to experience cancer other than writing about it,” explains Williams.

And she would have plenty to write about.

One year after undergoing surgery in 2010 to remove a cancerous nodule on her scalp, Williams learned that her cancer had returned and spread. “It was very fast-moving,” says Williams. “It was in my lung and soft tissue, and I could see and feel the lumps.” Her prognosis was grim. She was told that she had six to seven months to live. With few options available to her, Williams’ oncologist suggested she enroll in a clinical trial for an immunotherapy treatment.

After Williams completed the battery of tests required for acceptance into the trial, she told others that this treatment was her last chance at survival. “But my doctors told me that it wasn’t a last resort,” recalls Williams. “They said it was my best resort.”

“Immunotherapy was very new at that point,” says Williams. She became one of the first human subjects in the world to receive the immunotherapy combination treatment of ipilimumab and nivolumab—and among the first to have a complete response to it.

Twelve weeks after starting the clinical trial, Williams was cancer-free.

In October, at the ACCC 36th National Oncology Conference, author, journalist, and immunotherapy combination clinical trial veteran Mary Elizabeth Williams will share her story and perspective on how the cancer community can best meet patients’ nonclinical needs as the science of cancer care evolves.

In Williams’ book about her cancer journey—A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer—she draws on her more than 20 years as a journalist to recount her experience with a revolutionary new approach to cancer treatment—one that has enabled Williams to beat the odds and survive.

“Being outside of conventional cancer treatment makes immunotherapy patients a different breed,” says Williams. “I was lucky to have an out-of-the-box experience that did not put me in an assembly line of treatment.”

Williams knows that her “outsider” experience of cancer care makes her a member of a very exclusive club, and she wants to open the doors of that club to as many new members as possible.

“I owe my entire existence to the breakthrough of immunotherapy,” says Williams. “But cancer care has to reflect the reality of the patient community. They are not all people who look like me: a white, educated lady living in a big city who has insurance and access to the best hospitals. I am so lucky I have a platform to point that out. We need to include more people in this conversation.”

Join us in Orlando to hear firsthand from Mary Elizabeth Williams about her experience with combination immunotherapy treatment at the ACCC 36th National Oncology Conference, Oct. 30 – Nov. 1, 2019. Learn more and register today.

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