I started writing this post from my hotel room in Maryland at the end of our third day at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. It would be hard for me to describe everything that Mary and I experienced but I can tell you that without a doubt, God had His hand on us every step of the way. NIH, as it is referred to, is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is the largest biomedical research agency in the world. Mary and I were introduced to NIH by friends from church who suggested we check out a Discovery Channel documentary entitled First In Human. Click on the title to watch a two minute introduction.
Within days of emailing the contact person I was filling out forms and making arrangements to visit the campus to see if I was a viable candidate for a clinical trial. The first thing we noticed was that everyone, and I mean everyone, was friendly and helpful. On our first day at NIH I had to register with Pam in Admissions. She was bubbly and a little high energy for 8:00 am but by the time she was finished with my paperwork we were holding hands while she prayed for us, my treatment and claimed healing over my cancer in the name of Jesus Christ. I couldn’t help but think to myself “We’re praying in a Federal building with a government employee!”
The morning was a menu of blood tests, EKG and meetings with nurses and the doctor who oversees this trial. Dr. Gulley is the senior investigator and Director of Medical Oncology Services. Both Mary and I immediately felt at ease with his demeanor and knowledge of prostate cancer. He gave us the good, the bad and the ugly without making us feel pressured to participate in the study. Both he and the RN Anna answered all our questions and seemed to take a personal interest in me as a human being and not just a trial subject.
At one point he questioned the connection between my blood clots and heart attacks and suggested I be seen by NIH’s hematology department. Dr. Gulley also thought they might be interested in looking at my son Andrew’s case to see if they had an ideas about why he has such a hard time staying therapeutic. He explained in great detail the trial that I could qualify for. It is comprised of three groups of men who take three different drugs; hormone therapy which is standard of care for metastatic prostate cancer, an experimental immunotherapy drug and six rounds of chemotherapy. Each group would be given the drugs in a different order to see if there was a significant difference in effectiveness. The following day I underwent a bone scan and a CT scan and more meetings with the clinical staff.
Wednesday was our 21st anniversary so Mary and I took an Uber into DC for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Legal Seafood. We were both tired and overwhelmed as we talked about the activities of the previous two days. To be a part of this trial would require trips to Bethesda every three weeks or so. Most of the expenses were covered by NIH or more correctly, our tax dollars at work but still, it would be a large investment of time on our part. Fortunately God provided a loving, caring and supportive wife to join me on this journey!
Mary flew back to Florida on Thursday morning to start preparing for hurricane Irma. I had a more blood work, an X Ray and another CT scan to complete but first, I had to meet with Anna and another doctor to go over my records one more time. Anna went through the results of Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s tests and there we’re no surprises. What was interesting is that my PSA had gone from 5.4 down to .3 in response to the Lupron. She also introduced me to Dr. Strauss who is one of the doctors involved with this trial who filled in some of the blanks and answered questions left over from the meeting with Dr. Gulley. At the end of the meeting they told me that if I was game, they’d like me to be a part of the study and that it would start that afternoon with the vaccine injection. Mary and I had already decided that being a part of this clinical trial would be in my best interest so off I went to complete the rest of my tests and get the vaccine injection.
I left NIH that afternoon with a renewed sense of hope and a plan. These people really seemed to care about me and my situation. They also have a passion for helping others in my situation and that made me feel like I too was doing my part to find answers to prolong life or find a cure for prostate cancer. By the time I got back to my hotel I had already received an email from Anna with a couple dates in October for me to meet with the hematology department at NIH. A few days later, I had an appointment with a orthopedic surgeon at Walter Reed Hospital which is a block away from NIH. Dr. Gulley wanted to have a work up on my pelvis and femur and although NIH doesn’t have an orthopedic department they have an arrangement with Walter Reed. As I looked out of my window on the plane Friday morning, heading back to SRQ, my thoughts turned to the Lord’s prayer. This is a verse from Matthew 6 that I learned in Catechism class in the Episcopal church that I grew up in and something I have prayed just about every morning since my dad passed away when I was nine.
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.