The current issue of AARP The Magazine shares the pretty amazing story of Edie Littlefield Sundby, a 61-year-old California cancer “outlier” who we blogged about last year. Writer Meg Grant shares the specifics of Littlefield Sundby’s stage IV cancer diagnosis and early treatment:
There were as many as 50 fast-growing tumors — in her gallbladder, where doctors believe that the cancer originated, and on her liver, her colon, her bowel and her lungs. What stood out among the details the physician offered that day was that one of the tumors appeared to be seven inches long. “Whoa,” was all Edie could say. The doctor told her she probably had just three months to live. “He said the disease was incurable, with limited treatment options that would only delay the inevitable,” Edie recalls. “He advised me to think about palliative care and to start planning for hospice.”
A few days afterward, she arrived without an appointment at the Stanford Cancer Institute office of George A. Fisher, M.D., a gastrointestinal oncologist who treated Steve Jobs. He reviewed Edie’s records, put his arm around her and said, “I cannot cure you, but I can treat you.” Fisher promptly started Edie on an aggressive combination of chemotherapy drugs, a regimen he prescribed off-label to allow her the benefit of new medicines developed to treat cancers more common than her rare adenocarcinoma of the gallbladder. Twelve weeks and four chemo infusions later, tests showed that 80 percent of the cancer was gone. Fisher called the results “stunning,” but warned Edie: “Twenty percent of the cancer is still there, and it could kill you rather fast. Your liver looks like the Milky Way.”
Littlefield Sundby would go on to have several surgeries and setbacks, but is now technically in remission – despite the fact that Fisher says the chance of someone “with advanced gallbladder cancer that had spread as far and wide as Edie’s [surviving] for five years is well under 5 percent.” Read the full story to learn why her physicians believe she has done so well.
Previously: Beating the odds: Life as a chronic cancer patient