Emily Helck was 28 and fresh off a writing residency in Rome when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. No stranger to cancer in young adults, Emily had been her husband’s caregiver during his treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma three years earlier. But she soon learned first-hand how different all cancer experiences can be.
During her treatment, Emily documented the process by taking weekly photos, which she stitched together into a timelapse video, illustrating a year in the life of a breast cancer patient.
Once she finished the year-long standard protocol, Emily enrolled in a clinical trial for a vaccine for prevent her cancer from recurring.
She also blogged about her experience, and you can read an entry on participating in the immunotherapy trial here.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, and on the way home from the doctor, I told my family that I wanted to stop and buy a lottery ticket. My sister Olivia, good younger sibling that she is, smiled. My husband, Matt, sighed. My mom just stared at the road.
“You know, because if I’m beating tiny odds, I might as well get in on the good side of that,” I added. Olivia laughed. The other two were silent.
The tiny odds that I beat were: a) getting cancer in my 20s and b) getting cancer in my 20s just three years after my husband also got cancer in his 20s.
I made it through the year of standard treatment, which you can watch in the video above. And then I went seeking the last item on my list: the breast cancer vaccine. After some digging (and getting rejected from a few trials) I landed a spot in a study looking at two peptide vaccines: AE37 and GP2. I’ve been taking part in the study since the end of 2013. It’s been a great experience; super easy compared to all of the other treatment I’ve done. I’m very proud to be able to participate in the research process.
So, lessons learned this time around? I’m still putting them together, but mostly it’s about how there isn’t one cancer experience. Everyone is different. My husband Matt’s hardest moments were not the same as my hardest moments. Cancer in 2009 is different from cancer in 2012, which is also different from cancer in 2015.
I learned that things keep moving forward.
Provide guidance and encouragement to others going through their journey with cancer immunotherapy treatment.
*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.
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