When you see Janis Adams’ glowing face, sparkling eyes and wide smile you would never dream she has the heart of a warrior. Janis has battled breast cancer five times and is still fighting stage IV breast cancer today. But she now has new hope through the care she is receiving at UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center.
Janis’ journey began in Elizabethtown in 1999 when she found a lump in her left breast. She had a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy, only for the cancer to return a couple of years later, and then return again and again.
“I knew it was time to come to Brown Cancer Center. I have heard about the wonderful care for many years and knew they could help me,” Janis explained.
So, at the end of 2015, Janis came to UofL Brown Cancer Center where she met Dr. Jason Chesney, a medical oncologist and clinical researcher. “It’s through God’s blessings that I got to come here, meet Dr. Chesney, and have him treat me.” Dr. Chesney was recently named the director of UofL Brown Cancer Center.
At that time, Janis was in her fifth recurrence of breast cancer and it had spread into her liver, despite receiving the standard anti-estrogen therapies.
“Instead of choosing palliative chemotherapy that was not expected to cure her, Janis had the courage to participate in a first-in-human phase 1 clinical trial of a genetically engineered virus, talimogene, that stimulates the immune system,” Dr. Chesney said.
Janis had this virus injected into her breast cancer liver metastases for nine months. She then was administered a unique combination of an immunotherapy called pembrolizumab and two different anti-breast cancer drugs, palbociclib and fulvestrant. Janis was the first patient to receive this treatment.
Janis’ treatment was designed based on ideas and drugs developed by researchers at UofL Brown Cancer Center. Yoannis Imbert-Fernandez, Ph.D., a cancer researcher and assistant professor of medical oncology, focuses on the development of new approaches to cure metastatic breast cancer. She was part of a team of UofL researchers who developed a new drug called PFK-158 that recently completed phase 1 trial testing in patients with incurable cancers including breast cancer.
Her ongoing research is funded by the Twisted Pink (a local non-profit organization committed to funding metastatic breast cancer research) and is focused on developing new drug combinations, like the one Janis received, to target breast cancer signaling pathways and activate the immune system in order to save the lives of breast cancer patients.
“This triple combination of drugs is something no one else in our region would do, but it resulted in a dramatic turnaround for Janis,” Dr. Chesney said. “Janis has touched everyone that she has come in contact with and we have become friends, trading stories about my children and her grandson. She is an inspiration to us all.”
By having the courage to participate in clinical trials and to take innovative combinations of cancer drugs, Janis has won precious time to be with her daughter, go fishing with her grandson, and continue her love for painting and playing the organ in church.
Editor’s Note: Janis died suddenly Sept. 18, 2017 from health complications that appear unrelated to Janis’ breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see her story be published and shared with thousands of people. We honor her life by sharing her story as it was written just two weeks prior to her death.