When Las Vegas resident Audrey Marrow felt a lump on her breast four years ago, she immediately called to schedule an appointment at the Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada.
“I told the doctor, ‘I think I have breast cancer,’” the Philadelphia native said. “After he ran some tests, he told me I did, and I totally freaked out.
“He wasn’t supposed to agree with me.”
Dr. Rupesh Parikh, Marrow’s oncologist, said the type of breast cancer she was diagnosed with was triple negative, meaning the cancer had the highest risk of spreading or recurring.
“We treated her with chemotherapy and radiation in late 2014 before she had surgery to remove both of her breasts,” Parikh said.
Marrow said while she hasn’t undergone reconstruction surgery, it’s likely to happen in the future.
“I’ve accepted it,” she said of having her breasts removed. “I’m not going to the beach or trying to look cute.”
Nearly two years after Marrow’s breast cancer treatment was completed, Parikh discovered a cancerous lymph node, meaning her cancer had returned.
This time around, Marrow was adamant she did not want chemotherapy treatment.
“I’ve never been so sick in my entire life,” she said regarding chemotherapy. “I lose 80 pounds, and I couldn’t eat. It was horrible.”
Marrow said she told Parikh he had to find a different way to treat her cancer.
“I felt like chemo almost killed me,” she said. “There would be nights where I would pray so hard for death. I told him to try something else or nothing at all.”
Parikh decided to enroll Marrow in a trial for the new anti-PD-1 immunotherapy drug Keytruda in September 2016.
Keytruda blocks the PD-1 pathway to prevent cancer cells from hiding, so the immune system can detect and fight cancer cells, according to the company’s website.
“There are very little side effects, and she had such a difficult time with chemo,” said Parikh, adding that the drug company covered the entire cost of the trial.
Marrow said the only side effect she experienced while on Keytruda was fatigue.
“I could do anything I wanted,” she said. “I could barely get dressed with chemo.”
Within eight months of taking Keytruda, Marrow said, her scans showed no signs of cancer.
“I couldn’t believe it worked,” she said. “I’ve been 100 percent cancer-free since November.”
Parikh said Marrow serves as an example to other patients.
“She’s truly our poster child for how well she’s done and continues to do,” he said. “She beat the odds and showed how important it is to explore every option out there.”
Parikh said while he plans to continue to monitor Marrow’s lymph nodes moving forward, her scans show no evidence of active cancer in her body.
“She’s in remission,” he said. “I hope that lasts a lifetime, but I don’t know that answer.
“I tell her we’re friends for life.”
Parikh added that he would likely put Marrow back on Keytruda, should her cancer reappear, if it is approved for breast cancer treatment.
Though Keytruda is approved for multiple different cancers, including lung and renal cell carcinoma, Parikh said it hasn’t been approved to treat breast cancer yet.
“Now that the trial is closed, it’ll take about three to five years for the company to evaluate the breast cancer survival rates for those who were on the trial,” he said. “The cancer death rate is dropping, and it’ll continue to drop, because drugs like Keytruda are keeping people alive.”
Cancer medicine, according to Parikh, evolves every six months.
“Cancer Centers regularly participates in new drug trials. In fact, we have 160 active trials currently,” he said. “It’s cutting-edge medicine, and patients don’t have to leave the state to receive it.
“We can do it here in our backyard.”
Marrow said she recommends that people talk to their doctors about everything they’re feeling, especially if something feels off.
“I’m the last person in the world who thought they’d have cancer,” she said. “I found the lump and researched doctors the same night. It’s important to talk to your doctor when something doesn’t feel right, so you catch it early.”
Marrow added that it’s also important to talk to all family members to see if there’s a family history of cancer.
“When the doctor asked me if there was a history of breast cancer in my family, I told him ‘no,’ but there was and I didn’t know it,” she said. “Two of my cousins had it, and I had no idea.”
Now that Marrow is in remission, she’s looking forward to the future, including celebrating her 70th birthday on New Year’s Eve.
“The doctor said I’m not supposed to be here, but now that I am here, I want to let people know they can get through this too,” she said. “If you’re given a second chance, you’ve got to live, so I’m going to.
“I’m not letting anything stop me.”