How Immunotherapy Gave Leta Brown Her Life Back

Leta Brown had a wonderful life, along with her husband, two daughters and her stepson. But when she was diagnosed with widely metastatic melanoma, she felt the rug had been pulled out from under her and her family. “It was a huge jolt,” Leta shared. “I was left with a really grim prognosis. I wasn’t prepared for that kind of news.”

In April of 2013, a lumpy bruise appeared on the back of her leg. She consulted with her primary care physician, and a leg MRI showed a large metastatic tumor deposit and body CT scans showed additional metastases to her lungs and small intestines.

“When I got the news, it was really hard to get past the finality of it,” Leta said. “That this was going to take away my daughters' mother."

Immunotherapy Clinical Trial with Dr. Atkins

Not long after, while looking for treatment options, she came across an article on immunotherapy. She then found an immunotherapy trial with Dr. Michael Atkins at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, for which she was eligible, due to her diagnosis, as well as her medical and treatment history. He explained to her that cancer cells express proteins that can disable antitumor immune responses; immunotherapy blocks the function of those proteins restoring the function of the immune system so that it can eliminate the tumor cells.

Following a resection (removal) of a large bowel metastasis, Dr. Atkins and his team were able to safely initiate immunotherapy treatments in August 2013.  Her tumor deposits quickly melted away and she was able to return to her daily activities. After one year of therapy, she was disease-free and able to stop treatment without disease recurrence.

“This type of result, while at the time being considered exceptional, is fast becoming the rule rather than the exception for patients with advanced melanoma we see at Georgetown-Lombardi,” Dr. Atkins said of Leta’s outcome.

Reflecting on Her Treatment and Looking Forward

Of her treatment, Leta recalled, “Choosing an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center like Georgetown Lombardi [one of 47 in the nation and the only one in Washington, D.C.] to receive my treatment was very beneficial when dealing with the latest therapies and in managing side effects. The various departments were aware of what to expect and knew how to successfully treat the side effects. It also made it easier for me to schedule appointments and avoid traveling to multiple facilities to receive care.”

And to others who may find themselves in a similar situation, she says to try not to rush into treatment immediately following a diagnosis; seek other opinions and ask lots of questions.

“Try to let loved ones help you,” she continued. “But allow yourself to handle this experience in a way that works best for you. Well-meaning friends wanted to sit with me through treatments, but that was a time for me to be alone and process my experience without feeling the need to put on a brave face. Say yes to offers that will ease your burden, and say no when you need to.”

To this day, she still has no evidence of the disease.

“I can’t believe how fortunate I am,” Leta said. “I’m looking forward to a really long life… it’s an incredible gift.”

Leta's full story can be viewed here:

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