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Clinical trial brings hope that keeps her rolling past cance


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http://www.sptimes.com/2007/02/09/Pasco ... ings.shtml

The news hit her like a kick in the gut.

Judy Carlin had endured months of chemotherapy and radiation that stole her hair and her energy. Her 154 bowling average slid, but she kept rolling - and smiling when her doctor said the lung cancer was in remission.

Then last spring, less than three months later, she returned to her doctor's office in New Port Richey with another ominous lump on her shoulder. Her lung cancer had returned.

Carlin is no pushover. When she was 35, she survived two near-fatal heart attacks.

"I figured I'm going to beat this thing," said the Michigan native, now 67. "I'm not going to give up."

Carlin ended up at Florida Cancer Institute in New Port Richey, where a nurse asked the question that would change her outlook.

Lung cancer is most often a death sentence. But for some patients, hope comes from participating in a clinical trial. It's a chance to try new medicines and therapies waiting for widespread acceptance.

Carlin was fortunate to be at a doctor's office where clinical trials are a routine option in fighting cancer. But many cancer patients are not aware of such options.

H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa is about to embark on a study to determine why so few Florida residents with cancer, especially the elderly and minorities, enroll in these clinical trials, which are considered vital in the search for cures.

A patient must be strong enough to combat the side effects of powerful drugs. But attitude and outlook also make a big difference. When Carlin, who formerly smoked a pack of Marlboro Light cigarettes a day, heard about the trial, she thought about her four children and whether they might be susceptible to the disease.

But some cancer patients prefer proven treatments. In fighting for their lives, they prefer not to gamble. Carlin said, why not?

After she signed up, she didn't have to drive to Moffitt in Tampa or Shands in Gainesville, another top cancer treatment center. She made weekly visits to her doctor's office in New Port Richey. Patients in Hudson, Zephyrhills, Trinity, Brooksville and Spring Hill can also participate in trials locally. They just need to ask around.

Carlin and the other patients enrolled in the clinical trial received the drugs Tarceva and either Avastin, a reliable cure for colon cancer that was being tested on lung cancer patients, or a placebo. She was responding well to the treatment, when federal regulators approved Avastin to treat lung cancer. At that point she ended participation in the trial and went on the drug full-time.

The trial has been over for months now. Carlin looks great, although there's some concern that the cancer might be attacking her adrenal glands.

Every Tuesday, she returns to Florida Cancer Institute for blood tests; every three weeks she gets a 90-minute intravenous treatment. But her energy is good. Three days a week, you'll find her and her husband, Jim, at Lane Glo South competing in bowling leagues.

Wednesday morning, she was in Lane 5 trading spares and splits with her neighbors. She hoisted the 12-pound bowling ball and rolled. Nine pins fell. Then she easily picked up the spare before returning to her seat with a smile and a shrug. In bowling, like fighting cancer, she always hopes for a strike.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.

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