Keeping the "terrible twins" away

After six infusions at the Auckland Cancer Trials Centre (ACTC) from April to October 2019, Rose Marie Letcher has had good news. “Most of the mass has gone!”

Rose Marie Letcher, photo: Jason Oxenham/NZME

Rose Marie, 76, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer two years ago. She had gone to Waitemata Hospital for an endoscopy for a hernia – which she refers to as “Hettie Hernia” – and was told she had a tumour as well. “Well that’s a bonus,” she told the doctor, “I only came in for a hernia!”

She tells her story of diagnoses and treatments with humour and with clarity. Following the initial news of the tumour, she was referred to North Shore Hospital, was told that surgery wasn’t an option and was then referred to Auckland Hospital. She had one week of combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy but the chemo was discontinued because of the damage it did to her blood platelets. This was followed by five weeks of radiotherapy only. It seemed to successfully treat the tumour in the esophagus.

But in February 2019 she had a “massive” pain in her back. Tests revealed a crushed vertebra and a cancerous spot on each of her lungs – “the terrible twins”.

The treatment options at that point were few for Rose Marie. She says she lit up though when ACTC Clinical Director Dr Sanjeev Deva offered her the chance to be part of an immunotherapy clinical trial.

She began having three-weekly infusions at the ACTC, which was established in 2017 after a $1.4 million gift to the University of Auckland Campaign For All Our Futures from an anonymous donor.  

After the third infusion Rose Marie stopped so she could have treatment for side effects, then two months later continued with a fourth infusion. The results were promising. After the fifth infusion she had lost 68 percent of the mass and after the sixth there was only a shadow remaining on each lung.  

Rose Marie is happy to continue taking part in the trial for as long as the treatment is helping her and as long as the Centre needs her. She says the Centre is a “wonderful” place to be and she’s well looked after.
“We’ve been given so much. Robert [her husband], Sanjeev and I all agreed that even if it didn’t work for me, somewhere along the line it’s going to help someone else. That makes the whole thing mean something.

 “It’s a no-brainer for us.”

Helen Borne
DDI: + 64 9 923 2246