(At the beginning of 2014, Gail Murray, who works for the Community Redevelopment Agency, began experiencing an extreme bout of fatigue and eventually had bloodwork done that revealed she had renal cancer which had spread into her lungs and into her hip bone. Through the effort of several friends, she was able to see the leading physician in the field, Dr. Phillippe Spiess, who is affiliated with the Moffitt Center. She was taken into surgery and a kidney removed. She also began chemotherapy to eliminate cancer cells in her.)
So now the cancerous kidney was removed and shortly after, Murray began chemotherapy. While she was undergoing chemo, she was asked whether she was interested in participating in a particular treatment of the disease.
“It’s an experimental treatment,” said Murray, who was also told that there had not been enough people. That was because there were certain qualifications a candidate had to possess and thus far no one in Florida had been able to match those. One of those was the type of cancer. “You had to have Clear Cell Carcinoma.”
Murray agreed to participate and had her white blood cells, plasma, and the diseased kidney that had been removed sent to the Clinical Research Lab, which was conducting the experiment. From there it was an at-times nerve-wracking period of wait-and-see.
“They called me a week or so later. They were very excited,” she said. “I was the first person at Moffitt to qualify. I was the first person in the state of Florida to qualify.”
Starting the program
Thus Murray began in the research study called “An International Phase 3, Randomized Trial of Autologous Dendritic Cell Immunotherapy (AGS-003) Plus Standard Treatment of Advanced Renal Cell Carcinoma (ADAPT).” The research, she was told, was being sponsored by Argos Therapeutics Inc.
Murray had to pore through pages of information and consent forms that explained the program and how it would be administered. She was also made aware that the medication was still being studied and had not been approved for use in the general population by the Food and Drug Administration.
Murray began the treatment on Aug. 21. In it, she will be given three intradermal injections (injections into the skin), which will be administered either near her underarm or groin. Eight doses will be administered in the first year of treatment (approximately 48 weeks). The first five doses, she was informed, be given approximately three weeks apart. After the first five doses, she will be given booster shots approximately every three months. The 48 weeks are the make or break mark.
“I will continue in the study unless my disease progresses,” Murray said. If her condition remains stable or shows improvement after 48 weeks, she will continue receiving AGS-003 doses once every 12 weeks or until treatment stopping criteria are met. “What we’re hoping this study will do is make my body make its own immune system.”
She also has to follow certain dietary guidelines. For instance, she cannot have any grapefruit. She also must avoid spicy foods and be careful eating garlic.
Return to work
As stated earlier, before her participation in the experimental program began, Murray had to undergo chemotherapy and additional healing. It was, she acknowledged, draining at times. To begin with, the removal of her diseased kidney required a large incision.
“They had to do that to check my other organs,” she said. She also had to remain hospitalized. In that whole time she dropped between 20 to 30 pounds. It would not be until late June/early July before she was released and it was not until July 22 before she put in a full week at work at the CRA. There are still some post-effects.
“I still have some fatigue,” she said. She added the fatigue is mostly due to the medications. But she is undaunted. “As long as I can, I’m not going to let it keep me down.”
Murray also credited her recovery to the ever-widening circle of friends she has, who supported she and her husband, Tony; many of the friends hail from The Crickette Club, of which Murray is also a member. As she was recuperating, her friends looked in on the couple. They visited Murray in the hospital, cooked and delivered meals, and sent cards, emails, phoned and set up a Facebook account in which others could follow and track how Murray was progressing. They did one other very important gesture. They prayed for her, constantly. It mattered and it worked.
“Oh, definitely. Oh yes,” said Murray. “I might not be here today if it were not for the prayers.”
Murray reflected on the entire experience of this past year thus far.
“If you’re not feeling like yourself, if anything is out of the ordinary, see your doctor. Have bloodwork done. Have a physical,” Murray said.