In the dim light of Irene Price’s dining room, a small Mickey Mouse cake bears two candles casting a warm glow onto the surrounding faces. As the birthday boy claps along from his high chair while his family sings “Happy Birthday,” a grin of pure joy breaks across his great-grandmother’s face. For this cancer survivor, sharing precious moments with family makes beating back the disease so much sweeter.
“You see time through the eyes of your children and grandchildren,” said Price, the subject of Episode 3 of the Inside Medicine online video series. “And fortunately, I’ve been a very lucky lady.”
Price is no stranger to cancer. Her son, Gary, struggled with aplastic anemia as a teenager, and she lost her husband, Gene, to gastric esophageal cancer in 1991. In 2009, Price was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
For five years, Price tried the standard treatments – chemotherapy and a bladder-cancer-specific immunotherapy – both of which she said had shown promise. But then her cancer started to metastasize; she was running out of options – and time.
“I found out my cancer had penetrated the wall of my bladder, so it had to be removed,” Price said. “That’s when they asked me to take part in precision medicine. I said yes – it’s a win-win situation.”
With standard bladder cancer treatments proving ineffective, Price’s doctors – including Dr. David Nanus, chief of hematology and medical oncology – decided to analyze her tumor using a next-generation DNA-sequencing test called EXaCT-1. The approach, developed by scientists at the Caryl and Israel Englander Institute for Precision Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, scours thousands of genes to reveal mutations that drive a patient’s cancer and pinpoints the most precise treatment options.
Her doctors made an unexpected find: Price’s tumor consisted of cells associated with a form of breast cancer. Based on this discovery, Price’s doctors prescribed a personalized treatment regimen that combined chemotherapy with two breast cancer drugs, Herceptin and Taxol.
“It’s precision,” Price said. “It’s geared to you, and it was recommended that I should go on breast cancer drugs. They wouldn’t have thought, and I wouldn’t have thought.”
As of her last three CT scans, Price is cancer-free. For someone who loves celebrating birthdays like her great-grandson’s, Price now makes a special wish for her own.
“What do I wish for myself?” she said. “That things go on just as they are.”
Jamie Black is an editorial intern for Weill Cornell Medicine.