Local woman's cancer mass nearly disappears from immunotherapy treatment

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- “When I was told stage 4, I was like I’ll maybe have three months to live. With my treatment, it’s proving me wrong.”

In October of 2018, doctors found something strange while doing a CT scan of Jean Clark’s left lung. What they found was a mass the size of a tennis ball, leading to a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer.

“It was pretty devastating,” Jean of Eau Claire said. “Some words you don't want to hear.”

In this case, doctors told her she couldn't do chemotherapy and radiation because her body wouldn’t be able to handle it. That’s when her doctor, Muhammad Muslim, turned to immunotherapy.

“Our immune cells are under breaks, they’re under checkpoints,” Dr. Muslim said, he’s been an oncologist for more than 20 years. “So we all have immune cells, but they don't fight against the cancer. By giving patients’ immunotherapy, we remove those breaks so immune cells are free and stimulated to attack the cancer cells.”

And in just under a year of treatments, Jan's mass went from the size of a tennis ball to the size of the tip of her pinky finger.

Dr. Muslim says generally, immunotherapy has a response rate of 15 to 20 percent; and it’s typically tolerated better than chemotherapy.

“It’s slow to work, but when it works we'll get durable responses,” he said.

And because of Jean’s genetic makeup, she responded extremely well to the treatments. So well in fact, her case is being called a game-changer in the way doctors can manage cancer.

“I’m really hoping to be one of the ones that go past five, five years of success,” Jean said. “I think of it as success that I’m defeating the cancer. It’s not a burden it's a success.”

That success in return is making days brighter for all involved.

“There’s nothing more rewarding for a doctor than to see his patient doing well,” Dr. Muslim added. “If you ask me out of all the things that make me happy and make my day, this is the kind of patient that makes my day.”

Her success is building hope for her future, so she can get back to the things she loves most.

“I cook a lot; we go fishing a lot; we go to races a lot,” she said. “I can live pretty much a normal life. Even though I did have stage 4 lung cancer, I’m’ pretty happy.”

This segment is sponsored by Marshfield Clinic Health System.