In the Chemo Room: A Guinea Pig

Never did I imagine I would be walking through the Phil Anschutz-funded doors of the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora volunteering to be a guinea pig for cancer research.

But that's what I did on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of last week when I went for my first screening and scan appointments to enter a clinical trial for a drug called MEHD7945A, sponsored by Genentech Inc. out of San Francisco, which I suppose wants to manufacture and sell the drug once it is cleared by the FDA.

The consent forms are pretty clear: "You are being asked to take part in this research study of an investigational drug called MEHD7945A. The study drug is being looked at to see if it could be a treatment for advanced cancer. 'Investigational' means that the study drug has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is the U.S. government agency that reviews the results of research and decides if a drug can be sold in the U.S.

"You are being asked to be in this study because your tumor has grown or spread during or following chemotherapy or other treatment, or there is no standard therapy for your type of cancer... The purpose of this research study is to determine the safety of the study drug and to determine the highest tolerated dose... that can be given to subjects safely... This is a Phase 1 study. This is the first time that MEHD7945A will be given to humans and is in a very early stage of development... Please carefully read the sections on risk and benefits below."

The forms went on to describe known side effects, which so far have been mild in most subjects, but the forms don't rule out death or some lesser cataclysmic personal reaction to the drug and they schedule your first infusion (mine is on Wednesday) as a 10-hour day to make sure you don't have one.

The scans taken this week are done to establish a baseline for growth or reduction of the colorectal cancer growing in my lungs. The best results the researches will tell you about, however, is a possible stabilization of the growth and spread of the tumors. That's one reason entering the trial is considered one way a cancer patient who has gone through "standard" treatment and not defeated the disease can prolong his or her life beyond the time it would take for it to kill you if left unabated.

Dr. Wells Messersmith, the "study doctor" in charge of my treatment, told me July 8 that I don't look like someone who has cancer -- I've been gaining weight lately -- and my hope is that I keep up those appearances (and energy) while this new drug stabilizes my disease.

But none of all that is what amazed me most as I walked through the doors of the Anschutz cancer pavilion this week. What amazed me was the beehive of economic activity represented by the center during what has been the third of probably the three toughest economic years in the state's history.

Patients and employees alike hurried in and out of the pavilion; cars fueled by $3 gas, big buses and small carts ferried people in and out of jammed parking lots; hospital shops and cafeteria, information desks and check-in outposts were hustling with an assured, customer-service oriented dispatch.

I never thought I would have to be grateful to Phil Anschutz, but the marvel that has been created by The Anschutz Foundation -- which has contributed more than $100 million to building the center -- the University of Colorado, the city of Aurora, the state of Colorado and the federal government calls forth a deep sense of relief over having available to me the very best opportunities to beat my disease.

I don't mind feeling like a guinea pig.

Maybe my participation in this clinical trial, like all the work being done at the medical campus, will save a few lives down the road.