From a Grateful Patient

Creating New, More Hopeful Statistics: Terry Keegan’s Story

Terry Keegan writes many names on the back of his jersey when he rides in Pelotonia, the annual grassroots bicycle tour that raises money for cancer research at The Ohio State University, including Kami Atiyeh, Tiffany Elsea and Amanda Hettinga.

The women aren’t cancer patients, but staff members at the OSUCCC – James, part of the care team whose compassion and dedication impressed Keegan and his family during his cancer ordeal that began over six years ago when he discovered a pea-sized bump on the side of his neck.

From the beginning, Keegan’s cancer defied the statistics. He didn’t smoke and rarely drank alcohol, the prime risk factors for developing squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. His cancer was initially declared highly treatable, and Matthew Old, MD, removed the tumor at the base of his tongue, along with 63 lymph nodes.

A new lump in his neck a year later came with a scarier prognosis. Despite seven weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, a PET scan a year and a half later showed the cancer had spread to his right lung. “I remember seeing Dr. Old’s face when he saw three spots lit up on the lung, and he gave me the possibility of the metastatic diagnosis, which was later confirmed,” Keegan says.

The historical grim statistics meant that Keegan likely had 12 to 18 months left with Donna, his wife of more than 35 years, and their two sons, Terence and Ryan. A longtime engineer who had painstakingly tracked all of his treatment regimens on spreadsheets, Keegan understood statistics well. But fortunately for him, the OSUCCC – James had a clinical trial with a new immunotherapy drug that would help him to defy the odds. In March 2015, he started a two-year clinical trial on a drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb called Opdivo®.

“Within the first two treatments, the tumor started to shrink. By Christmas of 2015, the cancerous tumor and lymph nodes were gone,” says Keegan. “To this day, I have no evidence of the disease.” Now that the clinical trial has ended, he takes a maintenance dosage of Opdivo “just to be safe” and to provide more data to the research efforts.

Keegan does his part to raise money for research, riding in Pelotonia the past five years, and he couldn’t be more vocal about the importance of supporting the OSUCCC – James. After all, he knows firsthand how critical these advancements are to people’s lives. “These clinical trials are working,” says Keegan. “We’re creating new statistics that people can use, and the new statistics offer hope.”

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