LOOKING WITHIN FOR CANCER TREATMENT
It’s been 10 years since Tom Liebert received an experimental cancer vaccine to treat his multiple myeloma, and he still wonders: Did it work? The question nags at him, but not always.
After all, he’s still alive and singing with a barbershop quartet in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee. And
while he knows multiple myeloma is currently
incurable, it is treatable. “The definition of a cure
for me is that I die from something other than
myeloma,” says the retired electrical engineer and
computer scientist, now 60.
In the fall of 2005, Liebert lived and worked in
Boston and was teaching computer science to adult
continuing education students at Northeastern
University. He was 48 years old and seemed fit, but
a combination of symptoms—sudden energy loss
and bone pain—spurred him to get a physical that
revealed proteins in his urine. A few months later,
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that usually starts
in the plasma cells in bone marrow. Common
symptoms include bone pain and weakness and
fractured bones. The median age at diagnosis is
69; average survival after diagnosis with stage III
multiple myeloma is about 29 months.
Liebert’s local oncologist prescribed Cytoxan
(cyclophosphamide), an effective chemotherapy
for multiple myeloma. He was also in contact with
oncologist Paul Richardson at Dana-Farber Cancer
Institute in Boston, who told him about a phase II
clinical trial of an experimental vaccine.
Researchers are testing treatment vaccines that spur
the immune system to attack cancer.
BY STEPHEN ORNES