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People v. Cancer:

Judy Perkins and her extraordinary clinical trial experience

NEW YORK, NY — Judy Perkins of Florida, described as the first woman to be cured of metastatic breast cancer with immunotherapy, said last week that being an exceptional responder to a clinical trial is “almost all luck,” but she acknowledged that becoming proactive in her own care helped save her life.

“Metastatic breast cancer is usually a death sentence,” Perkins acknowledged in an interview on stage with journalist Lynn Sherr, herself a cancer survivor, at the People v. Cancer forum in New York City, sponsored by The Atlantic magazine.

It was after Perkins’ diagnosis in 2013 that she became involved in breast cancer advocacy, and through her work she learned of her clinical trial whose extraordinary results created worldwide headlines. In the interview with Sherr, Perkins described the experience of participating in two clinical trials.

“You know you have a chance at a little bit of new magic coming online,” said replied, “so I joke about being the golden guinea pig, but I didn’t have that experience really of being just a little lab rat. All of my doctors at both at University of Miami and at the NIH were fantastic they clearly cared about me as a human, so I did not have that experience of being treated like the lab rat.”

As for the NIH trial, Perkins described the process of realization that the treatment was working in an extraordinary manner.

“My tumors slowly shrunk over about five months and my first clean scan was in May, about five months after I was treated, Perkins explained, “and with metastatic cancer we have a condition called no ‘evidence of disease,’ which does not mean you’re totally in the clear, so I was just still sort of taking it day by day.” She continued, “But the researchers at NIH told me that I told me that the people who had that response typically went on to have long-term cures and it kind of gradually sunk in that my time horizon had expanded. So I think I was kind of frenetic that first year, with bucket lists things, and now I’m settling in and taking on longer-term projects. Before,” she said, “it was a process of letting go. And since then, it’s been a process of picking back up.”

Perkins noted that she joined Inspire’s Advanced Breast Cancer Support Community after she was diagnosed and it helped her feel supported while she gathered and shared information about possible treatment options.

Sherr asked Perkins, “Do you believe you are cancer free?”

“Yes,” Perkins replied emphatically, nodding her head.

“That’s a good thing,” Sherr said, breaking in to a smile.

“Yes, that’s a very good thing,” Perkins agreed, laughing, as the crowd applauded.