Next, she explained that she and her research partner had developed a vaccine that, in GBM grade 4 patients with that mutant gene, almost doubles life expectancy compared with that of GBM patients who receive only chemotherapy.
I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get to it then and there, but she said we'd have to wait until my first MRI, which they'd do about a month after my chemo and radiation. If it was clean - no tumors - I could enroll in the program.
Okay. Good. I understand. Put me on the waiting list.
But what about this Double Whammy business?
The Double Whammy clinical trial got liftoff (and its name) because Dr. Sam Hassenbusch, a prominent brain surgeon thereat MDA, had a GBM of his own removed in May 2005. When it came time for his treatment, Dr. Heimberger said, the question came down to a vaccine (which is a form of immunotherapy) or chemo, the two traditional forms of treating GBMs. Why not both? Dr. Sam asked.
(That's what everybody at MDA called him. That's what we started calling him when we met him a little later that day. Tori had read about Dr. Sam in Newsweek back in December, and had urged us to try to meet him when we went back in January after surgery.)
Nobody's ever done both, Dr. Heimberger told him. The combination could kill you.
Dr. Sam's response, as reported in a March 2007 CBS interview with Katie Couric, was typical of the kind of guy we found him to be: "Don't worry about it. Look, just think of me as a six-foot-tall research rat. And go ahead and do whatever you would do to a rat."
Then he explained in a more serious vein why he was willing to serve as a research rat: "Try it on me. If it works, that's great. If it doesn't, well, that's why I've devoted my life to medicine."
And that's how Dr. Sam became enrollee number one in what he and Dr. Heimberger dubbed the Double Whammy trial.
That was back in August 2005. When Kay and I met him in January 2007, he was serving as a consultant at MDA. The man exuded unbelievable enthusiasm for life. We agreed after our first meeting with him that he was one of the most charismatic persons that we had ever met.
So after getting a clear MRI a month after completing my seven-week chemo-radiation treatment cycle, I became enrollee number six in the Double Whammy. As you know, I've always been partial to number one, but I respectfully tip my Yankee cap to the man who earned that distinction in the Double Whammy: Dr. Sam Hassenbusch.
There are about 20 people enrolled in the Double Whammy trial that I'm participating in. Kay and I have been in touch with most of them. And here's a bulletin from the It's a Small World Bureau - Bob Sheppard's daughter, Barbara Derenowski, who lives in Arizona, is also in the Double Whammy trial. She enrolled five months before I did.