Cancer patient takes part in clinical trials, hopes to help


The Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Phyllis Peterson has spent her life helping others.

The 83-year-old had a career as a certified nursing assistant. She raised four children. And when she learned her ovarian cancer had returned, she opted for a clinical trial rather than another round of chemotherapy.

“My mother wants to help other people,” said Peterson’s daughter, Wanda Walker. “If it can help younger women to not be poisoned with heavy chemo, then that’s what she wants her legacy to be.”

Fortunately for Peterson and Walker, who has been by her mother’s side throughout her treatment, Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center now has more opportunities for patients to participate in trials without leaving Clark County.

When the Legacy gynecologic medical group began offering services in Salmon Creek a couple of years ago, the providers brought with them their affiliation with the international nonprofit Gynecologic Oncology Group. That affiliation provides local residents with access to large national trials of targeted therapy drugs, said Dr. Colleen McCormick, a gynecologic oncologist at Legacy Salmon Creek.

“We have a lot of those opportunities open here,” McCormick said, “which is really, really exciting.”

At the heart of those trials is targeted therapies.

Traditional chemotherapy treatment is like swinging a big bat, McCormick said. The bat will hit everything in its path, and while the bat will strike cancer cells, it will also hit the noncancerous cells. In addition to the collateral damage, there are side effects related to the toxicity of the treatment, she said.

“Targeted therapies is really refining that,” McCormick said.

Cancerous cells do something different than noncancerous cells, she said. So targeted therapies attack those differences at the cellular level, resulting in less toxicity and fewer side effects, McCormick said.

The targeted therapies are also more personalized, rather than following a course of treatment used for all cancers of an organ, McCormick said.