Karyn Staton is originally from North Haven, Connecticut, and later lived in Madison, Mississippi. She has resided in Northern Virginia for 12 years, where she is a substitute teacher and a full time Mom. Her husband of 24 years, Syd, is a U.S. Secret Service Agent in Washington, D.C. They have two children, Emily (age 12), and Matthew (age 10).
Karyn was enjoying an active, healthy life, when she randomly discovered a suspicious lump one cold, snowy morning in February 2015. The following days consisted of a whirlwind of doctors, scans, biopsies, worried conversations between family and friends, and culminated with the shocking confirmation that she had Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. After radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery, Karyn traveled to UMGCCC to participate in a novel clinical trial. Here's her story:
I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer on February 24, 2015. Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for approximately 20 percent of breast cancers and refers to the subtype of breast cancer that is negative for the estrogen, progesterone and HER2 genes/receptors. This subtype of breast cancer is more difficult to treat, and the only treatment options currently include chemotherapy in addition to surgery and radiation.
Syd and I were thankful for amazing doctors who aggressively attacked my cancer through chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy and radiation. During treatment, we extensively researched TNBC. It was very concerning that there were no targeted therapies to prevent a recurrence upon completion of standard treatment. We learned of a promising vaccine, called TPIV 200, for TNBC resulting from a collaboration between TapImmune (Dr. Glynn Wilson, CEO) and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Syd and I were hopeful, but wondered if and when this vaccine would actually become available to patients like myself. We constantly scoured the internet looking for updated information. One day I called TapImmune to inquire about their plans for potential clinical trials, and I spoke with Dick Granieri, who represents TapImmune. He was extremely compassionate, and said he would call me when he had any new information. His assurance helped me to focus on the immediate task of plowing through chemotherapy treatments.
I completed sixteen grueling rounds of chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy and then 25 rounds of radiation therapy. While I was recovering from surgery, my stepmother and my sister attended Joan Lunden's book signing at R J Julia bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. They shared my journey with Joan, as she signed our books. I was thrilled to receive her book, Had I Known: A Memoir of Survival, and I immediately devoured it from cover to cover. It was therapeutic for me. I felt overwhelmed once I completed treatment, as if I had PTSD. Everything happened so fast in the beginning; then I went right into “warrior mode.” Suddenly, there was no safety net when treatment ended. Along with unwavering support and prayers from family and dear friends, I found that reading Joan's book helped me to methodically process the journey I had traveled.
After much deliberation, Syd and I decided that my best chance for long-term survival would be to pursue the vaccine treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, where prior research with this vaccine had taken place. We investigated the potential scenario of relocating to the Jacksonville, Florida area. However, before any plans materialized, I received a call from Dick Granieri, who informed us of the opening of the Phase 2 clinical trial. We were ecstatic to learn that the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore would be a nearby site for the vaccine trial, under the supervision of Katherine Tkaczuk, MD, FACP, Professor of Medicine and Director of the University of Maryland Breast Evaluation and Treatment Program.
Syd and I felt very confident about this clinical trial, based on our research. After completing all of the preliminary requirements to participate in the trial, in June 2016 I was blessed to be the first patient in the U.S. to receive the Phase 2 TPIV 200 vaccine. I am receiving six monthly injections and then booster injections every three to six months for a three-and-a-half year trial period.
My experience with the facilities and the team at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) has been overwhelmingly positive. The Research Nurses are very professional, comforting and fully engaged in my case. We are also immensely impressed with Dr. Tkaczuk. She has had comprehensive experience with other successful clinical trials, including previous trials for Herceptin (trastuzumab). Dr. Tkaczuk is extremely kind, and she always takes the time to thoroughly answer any questions. Her complete dedication to the mission of eradicating breast cancer is very evident, which is tremendously reassuring.
I feel that the development of this anticancer vaccine is extremely important as it may cure more women with TNBC. The vaccine is a form of immune therapy which makes my own immune cells (T-lymphocytes) fight cancer in my body, and the vaccine approach is completely new in treatment of TNBC. This new phase of the journey is exciting, and I am glad to be participating in this clinical trial because the TPIV 200 vaccine could deal the final, fatal blow to a dreadful disease that has affected so many lives. I am incredibly grateful, and it is my deepest hope and prayer that my participation in this clinical trial will encourage other TNBC patients as we move closer to a breakthrough cure for all TNBC warriors.