"I want people to know the extent to which the treatment they receive when they're sick, and the preventative care that keeps them from getting sick in the first place, largely relies on what clinical laboratory professionals do."
"Clinical laboratory professionals play a vital role in treating and preventing illnesses. The quality of healthcare that individuals receive heavily relies on the accurate and timely testing, analysis, and interpretation of laboratory samples, which these skilled professionals perform."
When Jim was just six months old, he was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a type of cancer that affects the eyes. Unfortunately, he lost his left eye, but doctors were able to save his life. He also underwent several rounds of radiation therapy, which increases the chances of developing cancer again in the future, especially for childhood cancer survivors.
In 2011, at the age of 30, Jim had a suspicious mole removed from the skin over his lower right jaw. The removed tissue was sent to a lab, where a pathologist determined it was melanoma. After his diagnosis, his doctors checked his lymph nodes to see if his cancer had spread, and since there was no sign of cancer, they told him he was in the clear.
Five years later, Jim started to have unexplained symptoms: his calves and feet were swollen, he was exhausted, and he was having severe chest pain. He vividly remembers fighting exhaustion while preparing for his daughter’s birth, "I was working on some kitchen remodeling—I laid down in the dining room for a break and just fell asleep on the floor."
As a healthy and active guy with a one-month-old daughter, Jim thought he could power through the symptoms. He had an annual tradition of running the 5k portion of the local marathon festival and told himself that completing it would prove that he was okay. He made it to the finish line. but afterward, he started to experience extreme dizziness and had to go to the hospital. At the hospital, an MRI revealed that he had a cerebellar mass and tumors in his lung and mediastinum, which is the middle part of the chest cavity where the heart, lymph nodes, major blood vessels and airways are located. After examination, his doctors told him that his melanoma had spread, or metastasized.
Jim was shocked: "I naively thought that it would be the same as when my mole was removed, I'd have surgery and I would be fine. The look on the doctor's face told a different story."
Jim was immediately admitted to the hospital to undergo neurosurgery to remove the mass in his brain and to start radiation treatments. After six rounds of radiation therapy, Jim and his doctors decided to try an immunotherapy treatment to treat the tumor in his mediastinum. Immunotherapy treatment boosts a patient’s immune system to better fight cancer.
Many immunotherapy drugs are used to attack tumors with very specific genetic mutations. After other treatment options failed, a piece of one of Jim’s tumors was removed and sent to the lab to be tested for one of these mutations called BRAF. The test came back positive for the mutation, so his doctors started treating him with a BRAF-targeting medication.
Within two weeks, all of Jim’s symptoms had vanished. The medication was successful; the lab team had saved his life.
"Without the lab, I wouldn’t likely be alive. The first immunotherapy treatment I was on nearly killed me, so clearly it was halted. The tumors in my mediastinum were actively growing - causing a restriction in my airway. Without the BRAF mutation test that made that type of immunotherapy an option, I may have gone into the hospital to be intubated and not come out."
Jim now has no evidence of disease and is able to enjoy his life with his wife and daughter. He gets imaging scans every year to confirm his cancer has not returned.