Cancer Survivor Spotlight: Meet Linda

“I’m thriving, I sleep through the night, I go to yoga, I cook in the kitchen, I do I do I do I do, for as long as I can.”

“Don’t panic. That’s number one. We are now cautiously optimistic and able to say things like “melanoma is no longer a death sentence, but a managed condition.” And I have to take that to heart, because you can’t live in fear.”

Genomic sequencing is a very important part in finding the best treatment options. Whether its accessing targeted treatments, fine-tuning standard procedures, or determining whether immunotherapy or other treatment options are appropriate, genomic sequencing opens doors to treatment options and helps pinpoint the right Care path forward for each individual patient.

On June 26th, 2015, Linda McCulloch was on her way to pick up supplies for a wedding she was catering that day. She started to feel strange but thought she just had low blood sugar. Linda recalls, “A voice like a bullhorn reverberated throughout my body telling me ‘Pull over now or you will die!” Linda slowed down and began to pull over. Linda experienced a brain seizure while driving and blacked out. She ended up totaling her car and was left with a broken back.

After being brought to the hospital, scans revealed that Linda had stage IV metastatic melanoma. It had traveled from a lymph node in her arm to her brain. “I wish I had known sooner. But we can’t have that. I had no previous indication. So to have to go through all of this drama for all of my family… I wish I never had to have had a brain seizure and a car accident and a broken back to wake me up to what was going on inside my body.”

Linda’s doctors referred her to the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, but Linda was way ahead of them. Her family had received care there before so she was very familiar with the quality of UCSF. “My husband literally got on the phone, found out who the best guy was, told him what the deal was. And it was so fast. I was on a trial on July 9th.”

Linda had already undergone testing and her doctors were able to find out that she was negative for the BRAF mutation. She was quickly accepted to an immunotherapy clinical trial with 9 other BRAF negative patients. The study tested two drugs: Nivolumab in combination with Ipilimumab. “They thought it would be more progressive, because they had seen before with other people that had just had Ipilimumab that it worked but the side effects were abundant. They dropped down the level of Ipilimumab and increased the level of Nivolumab because the body can handle that better.”

Undergoing testing to find out that she was BRAF negative provided Linda with a clear treatment path. Since she didn’t have the BRAF mutation, her doctors were able to exclude options like targeted treatments, and put her on the immunotherapy course that yielded incredible results for her. Without this testing, Linda’s doctors wouldn’t even be able to consider these options. Knowing all your options is crucial to getting the best care, and genomic sequencing is an important part in unlocking all your possibilities.

FullSizeRenderAfter Linda’s trial was completed, Ipilimumab was approved by the FDA. On October 1st, 2015, scans showed no evidence of cancer in her body. “In terms of being unremarkable and healthy and being BRAF negative, and having everything sort of in place for the doctors, they ran with me. The panic makes you want to do certain things but you just let the doctors do what they do and I’m really glad I just listened to them, and I was with it.”

Today, Linda is back to work, her back is healed, and she is living a full life with her husband, son, and daughter. She works as a personal chef and caterer in California and continues moving forward in her life. “I’m thriving, I sleep through the night, I go to yoga, I cook in the kitchen, I do I do I do I do, for as long as I can.”

When asked what advice she would give to a newly diagnosed cancer patient, Linda offered: “Don’t panic. That’s number one. We are now cautiously optimistic and able to say things like “melanoma is no longer a death sentence, but a managed condition.” And I have to take that to heart, because you can’t live in fear.”

It’s been over a year since her diagnosis and Linda has all but forgotten everything that got her to where she is today. “I got in a car accident and all that other stuff but I’m a healer. I feel good I feel healed. I’m so grateful. They’re trying to take me off the drugs they gave me for the brain seizure, which I’m now getting off which is fantastic. And this will be the last little bit. Today I’m going to go back to my oncologist in Napa and say ‘remember me?’.”

I believe that getting your genomic profile is the first step to using your DNA to influence your treatment plan. The findings within your DNA can better help you and your doctor understand what type of treatment is right for your unique cancer.

If you or a loved one have accessed your DNA to influence the path forward for your care, please share your story. By sharing your story, you can help others understand the importance of genomic sequencing and what it can mean for their cancer treatment.