As an employee of the Information Services Department at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Jay Brinkley walked through the Zimmer Cancer Center many times, but he never imagined it would be the place where he would wage his own battle against cancer.
“I just considered the cancer center another service for sick folks,” he said. “I never thought I would become one of them.”
Brinkley was diagnosed with throat cancer in May. His doctor recommended he enroll in a clinical trial for head and neck cancers being led at New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Zimmer Cancer Center. A specialist in Chapel Hill seconded the opinion.
“The specialist told me Wilmington was the place to be for this treatment and that clinical study,” Brinkley said. “I felt good when I heard that. I knew I made the right decision.”
Radiation Oncologist Patrick Maguire, MD developed the protocols for the clinical trial. They include cutting the amount of chemotherapy the patients receive and incorporating a new way to administer radiation therapy that more closely targets the areas that need radiation.
“The goal is to have the same cure rate with less toxicity,” Dr. Maguire said.
The targeted therapy helps spare surrounding glands and normal tissue. This, along with less chemotherapy, not only results in fewer short-term side effects, it can also help prevent long-term problems with swallowing and dry mouth.
The study also incorporates ways of controlling nausea and minimizing the weight loss and dehydration that can result from therapy. Dietitians work closely with the patients throughout the treatment.
Two years into the study, the results look good. The cure rate is 70 to 75 percent, which is the same or better than traditional treatment.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Laurie Graham, RN, Coordinator of Clinical Research at NHRMC. “The patients are doing well. We are expecting to wrap-up the study next year. If all the data looks good, there is potential to build on it and develop even better ways of using targeted therapy.”
The Zimmer Cancer Center takes part in dozens of clinical studies, many of them funded by the Cancer Disparity Grant awarded to just six hospitals in the country to make clinical studies available to people who wouldn’t typically have access to them.
“Clinical trials are the proving ground for the new, and potentially best, treatments available,” Graham said. “They are high-quality treatments that aren’t usually available anywhere other than a clinical trial.”
Brinkley understands what a difference that can make. He completed his seven-week course of treatment and today is clear of cancer. But he hasn’t stopped going to the Zimmer Cancer Center.
“I don’t walk by it anymore without giving it is due attention,” he said. “Those folks in the Zimmer Cancer Center are incredible. They are so nice and dedicated. They are angels.”
He has also made it his mission to offer encouragement to others. Cancer Center staff members know they can call on him when they have patients who could benefit from talking to someone who has gone through what they’re experiencing.
“I had great support from my family, friends, co-workers and everybody in my town of Wallace,” Brinkley said. “It got me through. I can’t imagine going through the diagnosis of cancer and the treatment without support. I want to help others.”For more information about the Zimmer Cancer Center and clinical trials, go to www.nhhn.org/cancerresearch.