Chocolate-dipped Fresh Strawberries

I returned from the hospital late-morning on Monday, May 2, to find a tray of succulent, ripe strawberries, dipped in dark chocolate. When I inquired the source of this largesse, I was informed that it was a celebration. My very sweet patient, Sue Allen, had brought us these lovely desserts in recognition of her sixth anniversary. It is now six years since this charming Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse presented to my attention with widely metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, sitting across from her and her husband and examining the dreadful findings on her CT scan: “Hilar mass, extensive bilateral mediastinal adenopathy, bulky right supraclavicular andenopothy.” When we met, I had no idea what lay ahead. We were meeting for the first time and I had yet to run a study to explore treatment options. The gratifying good outcomes since then reflect her very favorable laboratory profile results.

On Monday, Sue was in and out of the lab before I could see her and congratulate her on this momentous occasion. But, I know how well she is. Her most recent family ski trip to the Sierras a few weeks ago once again reminds me that even the worst cancers can be beaten back. Although she has suffered recurrences, we have succeeded in controlling every new area of disease. While there have been compromises and hardships, she leads a normal life, raising her 10-year-old son and enjoying social and sporting activities with her family and friends. It is difficult to imagine what might’ve happened to Sue had we not met and determined her best treatments from the onset of her disease.

What I can say with certainty is that there’s something particularly sweet about those strawberries knowing the significance for Sue, her family and all the patients with lung cancer.

About Dr. Robert A. Nagourney
Dr. Nagourney received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Boston University and his doctor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, where he was a University Scholar. After a residency in internal medicine at the University of California, Irvine, he went on to complete fellowship training in medical oncology at Georgetown University, as well as in hematology at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. During his fellowship at Georgetown University, Dr. Nagourney confronted aggressive malignancies for which the standard therapies remained mostly ineffective. No matter what he did, all of his patients died. While he found this “standard of care” to be unacceptable, it inspired him to return to the laboratory where he eventually developed “personalized cancer therapy.” In 1986, Dr. Nagourney, along with colleague Larry Weisenthal, MD, PhD, received a Phase I grant from a federally funded program and launched Oncotech, Inc. They began conducting experiments to prove that human tumors resistant to chemotherapeutics could be re-sensitized by pre-incubation with calcium channel blockers, glutathione depletors and protein kinase C inhibitors. The original research was a success. Oncotech grew with financial backing from investors who ultimately changed the direction of the company’s research. The changes proved untenable to Dr. Nagourney and in 1991, he left the company he co-founded. He then returned to the laboratory, and developed the Ex-vivo Analysis - Programmed Cell Death ® (EVA-PCD) test to identify the treatments that would induce programmed cell death, or “apoptosis.” He soon took a position as Director of Experimental Therapeutics at the Cancer Institute of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. His primary research project during this time was chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He remained in this position until the basic research program funding was cut, at which time he founded Rational Therapeutics in 1995. It is here where the EVA-PCD test is used to identity the drug, combinations of drugs or targeted therapies that will kill a patient's tumor - thus providing patients with truly personalized cancer treatment plans. With the desire to change how cancer care is delivered, he became Medical Director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial in 2003. In 2008, he returned to Rational Therapeutics full time to rededicate his time and expertise to expand the research opportunities available through the laboratory. He is a frequently invited lecturer for numerous professional organizations and universities, and has served as a reviewer and on the editorial boards of several journals including Clinical Cancer Research, British Journal of Cancer, Gynecologic Oncology, Cancer Research and the Journal of Medicinal Food.

6 Responses to Chocolate-dipped Fresh Strawberries

  1. Pat Merwin says:

    Dear Dr. Nagourney, the sign on the wall of your office says “Hope Practiced Here”. Sue is living proof of that hope! She is a wonderful testament to the fact that, given the right treatment, people with life threatening cancers CAN have a future. My Very best to Sue and her family on this wonderful occasion, and congratulations to you for your great success in managing her care. Pat M.

  2. Dear Pat:

    Very sweet of you to take the time to comment. Thank you. We rejoice in every one our patient’s successes.

  3. Rick Carroll says:

    Hi Dr. Nagourney, Sue and all of the growing RT family in recovery:
    First to Sue and her family … WOW!!!, fantastic! Congratulations to you and to Dr. N. a special warm thank you for all that you and your staff do for us who, generally speaking walked through your door feeling rather hopeless at first. I too have been fortunate enough to share a story similar to that of Sue. As you well know. I was diagnosed with NSCLC in March of 1995. Like Sue, I am today alive and well thanks to the extraordinary “custom” approach to my care and treatment provided by Dr. Nagourney and everyone at Rational Therapeutics. So again a big congratulations and thank you for the remarkable recovery milestone achieved by Sue and thank you too for all you have done for me. Just this Saturday I and a big group of motorcycle riders took a 300+ mile trip up past Golita, CA to share a terrific picnic in the woods. A million thanks for making this possible for us. Rick C.

  4. Rick:

    Thanks for your kind commetns as well.

  5. Adina Jewett says:

    Hi Dr. Nagourney!
    I am sure you don’t remember me but back in December of 2009 I sought out a second opinion from you on a referral from Dr. Nisar Syed. He had treated my mother in the 1980’s for a cervical adenocarcinoma with his now widely used radiation therapies. She still has a very close relationship with him. Anyway, I was DX with 3A CC with a Lynch MSH2 mutation but unfortunately did not know about you and your amazing work in time to get you a viable tumor sample. I opted for subtotal colectomy/hysterectomy a year ago and finished FOLFOX treatments last August. I have since had 2 clean scans with one coming up next month.

    I just wanted to express how happy I am that I just happened upon your blog and can now keep up with your incredible accomplishments. This story you posted is so inspiring and I have thought about you often over this journey because you really took a lot of time to help me understand the biology of what I was going through and you are the only one who really helped me understand how MMR genes work (or in my case, don’t work). And you said to me “Don’t damage your DNA any further, Keep the PET scans to a minimum.” I have listened to that! Thank you so much for all you do!

  6. Adina:

    I remember you well. I am glad to learn of your good outcome. We actually wrote a blog a few months ago (“Why do people get cancer”) about patients like you with what are known as cancer predisposition syndromes Thank you for the update and for your nice comments.

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