After rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy to treat stage IV breast cancer—the most advanced stage of the disease—former New York Times
journalist Luisa Kreisberg wasn’t seeing a good outcome. But, when she was introduced to a pilot breast cancer vaccine study funded by the Cancer Research Institute’s Cancer Vaccine Collaborative, she immediately enrolled in the clinical trial, led by Dr. Kunle Odunsi, because an immunological approach to treat cancer made sense to her. Now, the 71-year-old Director of Information at the Museum of Modern Art not only spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, and attending musical concerts at the Lincoln Center, but she has also become a loyal donor to the Cancer Vaccine Collaborative’s initiative.
CRI: You’ve survived stage IV metastatic breast cancer for seven years; that’s remarkable.
Luisa: You’re right, stage IV is the most advanced form of the disease; the usual prognosis is two to three years. Whatever happens next, I’m glad to have had this extra time.
CRI: Why do you think you’ve made it this far?
Luisa: I’m basically an optimist; without hope, you’re lost. And along with my medical treatments, I’ve paid attention to the holistic and spiritual side, as well—diet and meditation are important to me.
CRI: What kind of medical treatments have you had?
Luisa: The cancer was too diffuse to operate on, so I started with chemo. That was a disaster, it made me ill. I went on to hormone shots, with some success, and radiation sessions. But the therapies I’ve felt best about are the immunological ones.
CRI: Why do you say that?
Luisa: They make sense to me. The immune system can spot early forms of cancer and destroy them, you know, it’s wonderful. The problem starts when, for some reason, the system isn’t up to the job. Cancer immunotherapies aim to activate or boost its natural powers—they’re all about helping the body do what it’s supposed to in the first place.
CRI: How did you learn about CRI?
Luisa: As a journalist, I know how to do my homework. It quickly became clear that CRI was the only cancer charity dedicated to cancer immunotherapy. I attended a CRI conference in 2001; very impressive. After that, I commuted to Germany by plane to take part in one Cancer Vaccine Collaborative trial, and now I’ve just completed a second trial in Buffalo, New York.
CRI: What impresses you about the CVC in particular?
Luisa: Most cancer research projects have their own guidelines and jealously guard results; you can’t compare findings and learn from them. CVC studies all follow the same rules and share information, which means faster progress. There’s another important difference, too—the CVC focuses on areas of the greatest scientific importance, not just those with big profit potential.
CRI: You seem to be a person with strong convictions.
Luisa: If something supports me, rewards me, I give myself over to it. I’m engaged in the adventure of immunology, so I’ve made a point of donating to CRI. I connect strongly with my grandchildren, gardening, and music; I get to Lincoln Center as often as I can. Ultimately, you know, it’s not the quantity of life that matters; it’s the quality.