Stories from Survivors

Mesothelioma Survivor Shares Opdivo and Yervoy Results

Written By:
April 13, 2021
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Written By: Emily Ward,
April 13, 2021
Emily Ward is a 7-year mesothelioma survivor

Late last year, I began a new treatment at a new facility. The medications were Opdivo and Yervoy, an immunotherapy combination recently approved by the FDA for malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Four months later and the results from my first scan have me looking forward to the future.

Over the years, I’ve tried many different therapies and gone through multiple doctors. There’s never been a point, however, where I wasn’t interested in trying something new.

If there’s a slight chance that a new treatment might work, and it doesn’t disrupt my quality of life, then it’s worth trying.

Immunotherapy Side Effects Worsen Before They Get Better

When I started Opdivo and Yervoy, also known by their generic names nivolumab and ipilimumab, the doctors told me that symptoms would get worse before they got better. I would have to wait several months until my first scan to give the medication time to work.

Immunotherapy uses your immune system to fight cancer. It tells your antibodies how to find and fight cancer the same way they protect you from an infection. It also means that you can get side effects that feel like you have the flu, such as fatigue and shortness of breath.

The same was true for me. The first few months on Opdivo and Yervoy weren’t easy. I had shortness of breath nearly every morning, and some days it was overwhelmingly difficult to get out of bed.

During that time, I had to wait and hope that the medication was working. I didn’t know if my mesothelioma prognosis was worsening. Now that I’ve had my first scan results, it finally feels worth it.

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Mesothelioma Scans Show Improvement

In early March, I started to realize that I was feeling better. There were days where I could get up quickly, breathe better and generally had more energy. One morning I woke up and I wasn’t coughing. I was also sleeping on my right side, something my shortness of breath wouldn’t let me do before.

I thought it might have been the weather or maybe just a fluke, but things started changing little by little. After a while, the good days began to outnumber the bad. My shortness of breath was gone, my cough was gone and my fatigue was gone.

I started thinking more positively about the new immunotherapy treatment, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up just yet. I told myself that the best I’d let myself think is that the tumors weren’t growing.

At the end of March, I had my first imaging exam on the same day as an Opdivo and Yervoy infusion. It was a chest, abdomen and pelvis CT scan with IV and oral contrast.

Besides the inconvenience of fasting and waiting for the contrast to take effect, the process was swift. The nurses kept my same IV line from the infusion earlier in the day, and the actual scan only took 15 minutes. I even got some macaroni and cheese from the cafeteria to eat at home later.

I wasn’t home for more than 10 minutes before the treatment center notified me about my results. The nurse practitioner had left me a note describing my exam as “excellent.” The report described centimeters of reduction rather than millimeters, and I finally had an idea of how well the medications were working.

Immunotherapy Offers the Chance to Do More

It’s hard to describe the benefits of feeling better every day from the moment you wake up. I’m tackling projects that didn’t seem possible before. I’ve cleaned my back porch, washed off the outside furniture and even fixed my grill.

There are things around the house that I can finally accomplish, going room to room and figuring out which project to work on next. I’ve already cleaned my sofa, chairs and storage cabinet. Next will be painting the kitchen and pantry, tasks I’ve had on my mind but didn’t feel like doing.

The improvements from Opdivo and Yervoy aren’t the only thing I have to celebrate. A few weeks ago, I completed my COVID-19 vaccination. Since then, I’ve been finding more opportunities for going out and seeing friends and family.

My social calendar is filling right up. I took my friend out to lunch for her birthday the other day. We went to a delightful local spot in southern Maine called Krista’s and chatted all afternoon.

It’s been more than a year since I could go out and socialize, and I can thank the COVID-19 vaccine and my new immunotherapy treatments for allowing me to feel like myself again.

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