At Joe DiMaggio, which opened a new 24-bed unit for pediatric oncology last year, there is a clinical trial with the Children’s Oncology Group that is “rolling back or decreasing therapy for a very small and well defined group of low-risk leukemia patients,” Cauff said. “Less therapy will hopefully mean the same cure and less toxicity and less long-term side effects.”
Doctors hope the same effort will continue to make advancements with the types of cancer that don’t respond to traditional treatment like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
Davie Goldson, 9, recently completed a trial in Miami, in which she took a diabetes medicine to combat a leukemia relapse as she prepares for a bone marrow transplant. Her mother, Suzette Holness, said she recognized the drug, metformin, because her own mother takes it for high blood sugar.
Before, Davie had 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy. Her fraternal twin, Skye, would accompany her to the hospital when she could. If Davie missed class, Skye would bring homework home. In April, the same month Davie was to finish chemo, she found a lump in her lymph node. “At first I was upset but then I thought it could have gone undetected. We would have have had a false sense of hope,” Holness said.
They decided to try a clinical trial, hoping for a better chance of avoiding relapse before the transplant. For the transplant, the twins’ mom has been advocating and urging family, friends and members of their Fort Lauderdale church to sign up at bone marrow drives. The family is waiting and hoping; the first search found no donors, the most recent, 20-30.
“These more experimental treatments try to apply the latest research or apply an existing drug in a new way.
“Just the fact that people are doing research and willing to offer something new to their child gives people hope,” Goldberg said. “I think it’s important to be realistic but you never want to close the door that their child may be cured or get the benefit of a treatment.”
One of Goldberg’s patients, Sam Stokes, travels from Orlando to Miami every two months for a clinical trial. Sam, 17, has alveolar soft part sarcoma. The very rare cancer shows up as a lump in the leg. His dad discovered it when he patted Sam congratulations for a good video game, his mom said. Traditional treatments don’t work with this cancer; people diagnosed usually survive five to 10 years. The family’s oncologist in Orlando suggested that Sam be enrolled in a clinical trial. For the last three years, Sam has been taking a medicine called Tivantinib every day. His tumor hasn’t grown. Before the treatment, his tumor was growing.
“It’s helped him lead more of teenage life,” said his mom, Cindy Stokes. He has a full head of hair, has a summer beard growing, likes to play basketball and video games and has had little side effects from his daily medicine. “We try to lead a normal life, but there is that roller coaster that you’re on.”
Nicole Reyes Haché, 16, traveled from the Dominican Republic to Holtz Children’s Hospital to try a new treatment with Goldberg. She’s taking a drug used for adult onset diabetes to combat the return of her acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She is in a clinical trial through the Sunshine Project, funded by the Pediatric Cancer Foundation in Tampa. Afterward, Nicole will need a bone marrow transplant. The fact the drug was already used by people — just newer for cancer — gave Nicole’s family some peace of mind.