Clinical trials enhance treatment options at LMH Health Cancer Center

photo by: Contributed

Rhonda Russell

Last November, Rhonda Russell noticed something abnormal under her right rib. After visiting her primary care physician’s office, which quickly led to a sonogram and an MRI, Russell received the difficult news: She had stage 4 renal cell carcinoma, also known as kidney cancer.

“They found spots in my lungs, there was an area on my spine that looked suspicious at the time, and there was a tumor on my right kidney that was the size of my fist,” Russell said.

Russell, her husband, Randy, her son, Nathan, and daughter, Melanie, met with Dr. Jodi Palmer, an oncologist at LMH Health. Palmer discussed the options for treatment, including an immunotherapy clinical trial.

The immunotherapy treatment felt like the right choice to Russell, who was familiar with oncology clinical trials. Her mother had undergone a successful clinical trial treatment 16 years ago at LMH Health that eradicated her breast cancer.

“Dr. Palmer mentioned other paths I could take, but the idea of a clinical trial — and my mom having done so well with her own — really appealed to me,” Russell said. “Additionally, I would be doing something that could possibly help someone else down the road.”

The LMH Health Cancer Center partners with the Masonic Cancer Alliance to provide patients with access to nearly 50 clinical trials and the latest advancements, while remaining close to home.

“Clinical trials are available at LMH Health for many different types of cancers, and all of our patients are evaluated to see if they are eligible,” Palmer said. “The MCA’s goal is to make clinical trials available to as many Kansans as they can.”

Palmer said that Russell was right about helping future patients by participating in a clinical trial.

“Improvements in cancer care are possible because of the people who volunteer to participate in these clinical trials,” Palmer said. “You are contributing to our medical body of knowledge in your specific area. Rhonda’s fantastic success in this trial will lead to a report on how much better patients may do on this regimen compared to the standard of care.”

Russell chose LMH Health for its convenience. Research shows that patients who receive care close to home have better health outcomes, according to Palmer.

“I didn’t want to drive to Kansas City, and I didn’t want to impose on someone else to drive me there,” Russell said. “And if anything happened between visits, I wanted to be close to my care team who knows exactly what’s going on with me.”

Russell started the clinical trial in December with two immunotherapy infusions. She said her treatment is working – in May, Palmer reduced her dose to just one infusion.

“My status is really good,” Russell said. “At my last checkup, they said that the spots are diminishing and the tumor is still shrinking. I’m happy with everything.”

Russell said that she has felt well throughout her months-long treatment at the LMH Health Cancer Center.

“People can’t believe that there’s even anything wrong with me,” Russell said. “I go about doing everyday activities pretty much as normal as before. I’m active with my family, five granddaughters, friends and congregation friends. It hasn’t slowed me down.”

Immunotherapy infusions are used for many different types of cancers at LMH Health and have provided incredible outcomes, according to Palmer.

“Rhonda has done remarkably well with her treatments, and her disease response has been impressive,” Palmer said. “That’s what’s amazing about immunotherapy — patients tolerate them well and their disease typically responds better than it would to traditional chemo therapeutics. It has really changed the outcomes for many of our patients, and I think it will continue to impress us moving forward.”

All clinical trials at the LMH Health Cancer Center follow strict guidelines monitored by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. Clinical trials are optional, and patients can choose to receive the normal standard of care if they prefer.

“A patient will never be forced into anything,” Palmer said. “But if they are interested in a clinical trial, they may receive a drug that could improve their care and add to its research. If they choose not to, they will still receive excellent care.”

The LMH Health Cancer Center is home to physicians trained at NCI-designated cancer centers, as well as multidisciplinary care teams and strong regional partnerships. Cancer patients at LMH Health not only have access to clinical trials, but also to genetic testing, comprehensive support programs, lifelong survivorship resources and a cancer prevention program.

The need for cancer care in the Douglas County community and beyond has continued to grow, according to Rebecca Smith, executive director of the LMH Health Foundation and vice president of strategic communications for the hospital. From 2020 to 2021, LMH Health Cancer Center appointments increased by 16%. And in the past year, appointments have increased again by 7%.

In 2021, LMH Health Foundation announced its intent to seek philanthropic support to update the LMH Health Cancer Center’s space and greatly expand its square footage.

More than $6.5 million has already been given or pledged to date toward the Cancer Center initiative, Smith noted.

“Donor support is the real difference maker for this project, and it’s what will ensure our ability to provide the highest level of cancer care for years to come,” Smith said. “LMH Health has the providers, technology and facilities to provide care that’s not only exceptional for a community hospital; it’s among the best anywhere.”

Russell said she recommends others to have their cancer treatment at LMH Health.

“The LMH Health oncology team is great and very knowledgeable,” Russell said. “I know other friends who’ve had really great cancer journeys of their own at LMH Health. They were very happy with their doctors and nurses here.”

— Courtney Bernard is the development coordinator for the LMH Health Foundation.


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