Lindsay McDonell, a breast cancer survivor and patient advocate, says that based on her experience with cancer treatment, she’s come to believe that chemosensitivitythe susceptibility of tumor cells to the cell-killing effects of anticancer drugs (chemotherapy or other drugs). A loss of chemosensitivity means that chemotherapy is no longer effective. Some complementary therapies may increase, decrease or restore chemosensitivity. Knowing the effects of complementary therapies on chemosensitivity can be critical to treatment success. Some natural products that may reduce chemosensitivity need to be discontinued during chemotherapy. testing is one of the most important tests to have done. And it should be done early on, rather than waiting to see if the chemotherapy or targeted therapy does or doesn’t work or until there is recurrence.

Insisting on testing

Lindsay had none of the advanced or novel diagnostic testing after her initial diagnosis of breast cancer, because it was a common type of breast cancer with a standard treatment regimen. When she had a recurrence that was widespread and moving fast by the time it was found, she was prescribed standard treatment that was defined by her cancer center’s protocol a package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care. Two months later, the treatment wasn’t working and the cancer had metastasized to her liver. She asked for molecular testing of her tumor and the oncologist said that the protocol dictated that you have to fail four regimen before this testing would be done. The oncologist said she’d put Lindsay on Xeloda. Lindsay started the Xeloda and also insisted on having the Guardant genomic test to which her oncologist reluctantly agreed.

Exploring other options

Meanwhile, Lindsay was exploring other treatment options and considering working with an integrative oncologist. One suggested she have chemosensitivity testing done by Dr. Nagourney, but there would not be enough of Lindsay’s tumor tissue available for the Nagourney test to be useful. Her research then led her to the integrative oncology practice of Dr. Ralf Kleef in Vienna, Austria [who later practiced in Budapest, Hungary]. He sent off a sample of Lindsay’s blood to a lab in Germany for chemosensitivity testing. Those results came back as showing there were no drugs and only a few nutraceuticals to which the cancer cells were sensitive. Lindsay had insisted on a tumor tissue sample being sent, even though Dr. Kleef thought the tissue sample results would be the same. They were able to obtain enough tissue from her sacrum to submit to the chemosensitivity testing lab. Interestingly and fortunately the sacrum tissue sample analysis said that the number one treatment was topotecan (a drug not usually used for breast cancer), and that a number of nutraceuticals would also be useful.

Meanwhile, the Guardant molecular test results arrived and revealed Lindsay’s tumor to have several mutations; the chemotherapy she’d had in the past was not indicated for these particular mutations. In fact, the targeted therapies that Dr. Kleef prescribed were not “approved” in breast cancer, but apparently targeted the mutations in Lindsay’s breast cancer.

Creating her own treatment approach

Lindsay’s medical treatment has consisted of an integration of chemotherapy, targeted immunotherapy, nutraceuticals, and hyperthermia. She is now able to receive the topotecan at her oncologist’s office, her intravenous (IV) nutraceuticals at an integrative medical practice in Chicago, and her oral and injectable supplements at home. She continues to see Dr. Kleef for the Opdivo and Yervoy, hyperthermia treatments and check-ups. She is not eligible to get the Opdivo and Yervoy in the USA. She has been turned down by insurance and Bristol Squibb because these are not approved for this use. The treatments are working for now, and scans find no evidence of disease (NED).

Lindsay feels that if she had followed the protocol used by her conventional cancer treatment center she would likely be dead by now. She had to advocate for herself and do her own research, and that tenacity has extended her life. One can see why Lindsay is a proponent of non-standard diagnostic approaches—one size does not fit all. Lindsay is the living proof of that.

Lindsay’s book

Dancing with Cancer and How I Learned to Lead: A Guide to Becoming an Advocate for Personalized Cancer Care

Lindsay’s book teaches the steps and the mindset to maximize your chances of being a cancer survivor for as long as possible.

Resources

This story is the first in a series.

Lindsay McDonell: What’s Next? Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer

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About the Author

CancerChoices Staff

The CancerChoices staff blend a wide array of medical and research experience, including training and practice in conventional and naturopathic medicine.

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The CancerChoices staff blend a wide array of medical and research experience, including training and practice in conventional and naturopathic medicine. Laura Pole has decades of experience in oncology nursing care, participation in cancer retreats, and patient navigation. Whitney You, Emily Ryan and Andy Jackson are practicing physicians with training in research methods and experience in medical education. Nancy Hepp and Maria Williams are trained and experienced researchers and writers.

CancerChoices Staff