Not yet but area residents benefit from advances at GHSU Cancer Center
September is Leukemia/Lymphoma Awareness Month, and at Georgia Health and Sciences Cancer Center, doctors are doing their best with new medications to get rid of cancer once and for all.
With a number of nonchemotherapies and new drugs, Dr. Farrukh Awan is helping put GHSU at the forefront of new cancer treatments. Locally, they are having great success, he said.
“We have been seeing some really promising results. Even if we can’t cure cancer, we can make it a non-factor,” Awan said. “We have some of the best, most exciting drugs in the country, and this is a resource we need to get the word out about.”
In Aiken, Joyce English and Donald Kitt have seen dramatic results from Awan’s treatments. Awan called English a perfect example of how the treatment has worked.
English came to Aiken roughly three years ago by ambulance from Pennsylvania. She was stuck in a wheelchair and had little to no mobility.
She has a variant of lymphoma called Waldenstrom’s. Her blood would also thicken up as the weather got colder.
“I was having one transfusion after another,” English recalled of her chemo treatment up north. “When I came down, I was in terrible shape. I was staying with my son and his wife, and they were waiting on me hand and foot. I was so weak my son would have to practically carry me to the car.”
At GHSU, at the request of Awan, English began a new treatment. Three years later, at 81 years old, she is taking six pills a day and living life to the fullest.
No chemo, no transfusions, no wheelchair. The clinical trials kept her out of hospice and even helped her get into her own place.
“I’m not sure how long it took, but I started feeling so much better I started cooking and things like that,” English said. “I was being driven by my son, but when I started feeling better I started taking the bus. I feel like a different person now. ... I even got my own apartment.
“I have to thank Dr. Awan for getting me into treatment. It was wonderful, unbelievable and the nurses, they’re just outstanding.”
Kitt was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2004. The cancer started getting aggressive, and three different hospitals wanted him to have a bone marrow transplant, but Kitt knew it would be a risky procedure.
He was going to treatment half the week and trying to work the rest of the week. Running out of options, he went to church and prayed.
“I wasn’t a fully committed Christian, but after I found out I had CLL, you kind of go through these emotional changes,” Kitt recalled. “The first year was a struggle; it was trying to get the best of me, but I fought back, and I don’t think you can without some kind of faith.”
He devoted his life to religion and began fighting back against the cancer, then a friend recommended Awan.
“He listened,” Kitt said. “They put me in an experimental program, and I’ve been progressing real good.”
Kitt, at 69 years old, no longer has to go through infusions or chemo. He only goes to the hospital once a week.
And he’s back at work full time at the Allendale Department of Corrections.
“It’s a job. It’s only difficult when the guys ‘want to play,’” Kitt joked. “I’ve been blessed. I’m able to just have a normal life, normal for a person with cancer, but if my friends didn’t know it, they’d think I was fine.”
Awan sais this is only the beginning of where their research and testing has led the Cancer Center. They are hoping to one day soon take the trials from last resort to first.
“Our goal is to cure cancer, to cure it without any side effects,” Awan said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re moving that way.”
Chris Walsh is a reporter for the Aiken Standard. He graduated from Valdosta State and hails from Atlanta.