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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – “Hello. How are you today?” says the man coming through the hospital doors clearly as recognizable to the nurses and front desk as any doctor in the Mary Crowley Cancer Center.
“Hello Mr. Bruce,” several of the employees say back.
For seven years, Wilford Bruce, or “W.W.” to his friends, has been coming into this part of the hospital delivering fresh baked cookies every Monday morning.
Bruce says the Mary Crowley Cancer Center allowed him two-and-half extra years with the love of his life. This is his way of returning the love.
“My wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given six-months to live at best.”
The cookies he brings are for patients like college-student Carly Rutledge.
“One day I was in class and the next day I was being wheeled into the operating room and hardly having anytime to process,” says Rutledge.
At 15-years-old, Rutledge was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a bone cancer that spreads quickly. She came to the Mary Crowley Cancer Center for an experimental treatment.
“When I was in chemo therapy, it’s five days in the hospital of intense…it’s very intense. Immune therapy could not be more the opposite. I would fly in and out in one day and get a shot.”
The Center just made it through the first phase of FDA approval for the immunotherapy treatment of Rutledge’s cancer. Doctors say it is a landmark victory that could change the way they treat many other types of cancers.
“Change from an acute deadly disease to a chronic disease, probably we do the same for hypertension or diabetes. We don’t cure, but we control the disease,” says Doctor Maurizio Ghisoli.
This immunotherapy is a shot typically given once a month. It’s a personalized vaccine developed from cells taken from the patient’s tumor. The therapy injects customized genes back into the body so the cancer can no longer resist the patient’s immune system.
Doctor John Neumunaitis began the research here two decades ago. CBS 11 asked him if the day will come where you cancer shot is just like your flu shot? “You know that’s our dream. It recognizes the cancer where before it couldn’t and that’s really what a flu shot does. It changes the immune system.”
Rutledge is now a college student, in remission, with no side effects. She’s one of the reasons the cancer center is one step closer to FDA approval. But there are other success stories. Doctor Neumunaitis remembers how the research began here with a man named Grover Cummings. He was diagnosed months before he was supposed to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. He just wanted to live long enough to make that happen. That was 20-years-ago. Today, he is alive, cancer free and has a 16-year-old granddaughter.
“We’re actually the only place in the world offering this therapy,” says Doctor Ghisoli.
Families are now flying in from all the world for these vaccinations. The Baron family just brought their son here from Italy. “We couldn’t find anything so promising in Europe. Dallas is quite unique in offering this opportunity.”
It’s hope for future generations and that is something “W.W.” takes away every week.
As he walks back out of the center after dropping off his cookies, you hear nurses and doctors everywhere saying, “Bye. See you next week.”
Doctors at the Mary Crowley Cancer Center believe they will make it through the entire FDA approval process of this treatment in four-to-five years. For now, the treatments remain in clinical trials.
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