DALLAS (CBS11) – If love could cure cancer, Ann Marie Herbst would never have gotten sick.
“Completely shocked,” says the Fort Worth wife and mother, “I really thought they mixed by blood up. Just no way that was true.”
The diagnosis was AML: acute myeloid leukemia. Experts say some 20,000 patients are diagnosed each year– about half that number will die.
“We’ve had many hard days,” says Herbst, whose cancer was diagnosed in 2015. “My husband was there every step of the way, and I remember him holding my hand and saying the name Hayden, Hayden over and over. She got me through everything.”
Hayden is the couple’s adorable, active 3-year-old daughter. She was just a toddler when family and friends took over her day to day care because for months Herbst would endure 30-day inpatient hospital stays where the risk of infection was so great that she couldn’t be near her baby girl.
“All you want is to be a mother, to be there for your child… to be there loving them, and that’s all I want from all of this.”
With her cancer now in remission, Herbst is rooting for a new clinical trial underway at Dallas’ UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. The Center has been selected as the only Texas site for the national Moonshot clinical trial to find individually tailored approaches to better treat AML.
“We’ve been stuck in treating these patients the same way for the past 40 years or so,” says Robert Collins, M.D., an internal medicine professor at UTSWMC. “Now we finally have the new knowledge about how these diseases actually work… that we can come after them in a much more rational way with this targeted therapy, so we are all really excited about it, yes, it’s a big deal.”
Patients will take part in a process called ‘rapid gene mapping.’ Within a week, researchers will be able to peek into their cancer’s DNA. The clinical trial will explore how new medications affect those specific cancers.
“I think that in the past we’ve been dealing with just sort of a black box,” says Dr. Collins. “Now, we have a lot of understanding of what’s going on, it leads to a real rationality to it.”
Right now, only patients 60 and older are being allowed into the trial. Their situations are the most severe with the median survival often a year at best. According to Dr. Collins, the intent is to take what they learn and apply it to care for younger patients as well.
For now, Herbst, 32, has time and she wants a lot more of it.
“It’s the little things, ya know?” As she pauses, her face fills with emotion. “I just want to see her go to kindergarten, I want to see her graduate high school.”
Even if she can’t participate in the clinical trial, Herbst and her husband have been fund raising for the cause. A charity golf tournament called the “Fight Like Hell Golf JAM” this year raised $38,600 for the Beat AML campaign. The effort is as much personal as philanthropic because funding research will help fund more clinical trials, which she says brings hope.