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By Susan J. White
Mick Jackson first battled lymphoma six years ago with surgery and chemotherapy under the expert guidance of Lynne Kaminer, MD, hematologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem, part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health.
“I had a lot of faith in her and was very confident I would be cured,” said Jackson, who was indeed in remission until he faced an atypical late relapse in September 2022.
It is more common for high-grade lymphoma to come back in the first two or three years, and in Jackson’s case his relapse was extensive with disease in his bone marrow, liver and lymph nodes, explained Dr. Kaminer.
After undergoing chemotherapy, it was clear the 74-year-old retired computer programmer was not a good candidate for a stem cell transplant, however CAR T-cell treatment — pioneering, FDA-approved therapy and the new gold standard for patients like Jackson — proved to be a very promising option. And fortunately for Jackson, NorthShore has one of the first non-university based certified programs in the state, so he could receive the advanced treatment at Evanston Hospital.
Dr. Kaminer explained that Jackson would be NorthShore’s first CAR T patient in the new program led by hematologist David Grinblatt, MD, and she walked he and his wife through the protocol, including potential side effects.
“I gave her the go ahead the next day,” said Jackson. “I had total trust in her.”
CAR T-cell therapy involves chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) genetically modified T cells (a type of immune cells) that are designed to recognize and activate specific tumor cell molecules to destroy malignant cells. The patient’s own immune cells are collected in a process similar to dialysis, engineered to fight the cancer cells and then given back to the patient, harnessing the body’s own immune system to attack cancer.
Jackson spent 11 days in Evanston Hospital when he received the CAR T infusions and was closely monitored by a multidisciplinary team of specialists well versed in the major side effects of the treatment, including a neurologic syndrome that caused Jackson some confusion and delirium for a few days.
“All of the nurses at Kellogg were wonderful,” he said. “As a rule I really don’t like medicine and hospitals, but this all worked out so well for me.”
After several weeks of feeling very tired, Jackson began to regain his strength, and soon was back to his active lifestyle including regular exercise, cycling, philosophy classes, reading and writing. A retired computer programmer, Jackson is also a prolific song and limerick writer. He said during his treatment, he passed the time writing songs about lymphoma and his team of caregivers, setting them to the music of the Beatles and other famous songs.
“You have to try and make some humor out of it,” said Jackson, singing one of his favorites to the tune of the Beatles’ “Let it Be:”
“When I found myself with cancer, Kaminer and Grinblatt come to me.
Bringing meds and healing, K and G, K and G, K and G,
K and G, K and G,
Bringing meds and healing K and G”
“It’s very gratifying to care for patients and know that we can offer these innovative therapies,” said Dr. Kaminer, who is hopeful about future applications for CAR T and growing numbers of biospecific therapies for lymphoma and other cancers.
A negative PET scan six months post-treatment confirmed that Jackson is now cancer free. “I’m confident I have many years ahead of me,” he said.
Learn more about CAR T-cell therapy.
Cancer is a journey that no one expects to take. The cancer experts at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center partner with you every step of the way. Learn more.