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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Cancer Research and Clinical Trials Can Produce Great Results – the Wendy Harpham Example

Wendy Harpham, MD, leads Wendy’s Eagles in a 2015 fundraising walk for lymphoma research. Wendy is alive and thriving 23+  years after her first diagnosis with indolent lymphoma. Part of the reason is that she and others joined the phase I clinical trial of a then first-in-kind drug, a monoclonal antibody commonly known as Rituxan.

As a nation, we are grossly under invested in cancer research and clinical trials. Pessimists say we can never beat the various diseases we call cancer. Not so.

For some proof, consider the story of  Wendy Harpham, an internist. Wendy today is alive and thriving some 23+ years after she was first diagnosed with indolent lymphoma. In addition to promoting investment in research,  Wendy educates other doctors about interaction with persons with cancer, writes great books for patients, and writes the Healthy Survivor blog.

Wendy’s description of her history is set out below. Note especially her joinder in the phase 1 trial that paved the way for FDA approval of a then first of its kind drug. That drug today is commonly known as Rituxan, and has saved or extended tens of thousands of lives The drug – a  monoclonal antibody (Rituximab) –  is the R in a regimen commonly known as R-CHOP.  As Wikipedia explains:

“Rituximab destroys both normal and malignant B cells that have CD20 on their surfaces, and is therefore used to treat diseases which are characterized by having too many B cells, overactive B cells, or dysfunctional B cells.”


In 1990 I was diagnosed with indolent lymphoma, a type of cancer every textbook deemed incurable. My three children were all under 6 years old.

Intensive chemo put the lymphoma into remission. But it recurred a year later. After a course of radiation therapy and while still taking interferon, the lymphoma recurred again in 1993.

I discussed all my treatment options with my physicians and did some middle-of-the-night praying to make the best decision. In June 1993, I flew to the west coast to enroll in a Phase I clinical trial of the first monoclonal antibody therapy being used in humans to treat cancer. ( To watch a Stanford lecture about the trials by Dr. Ron Levy, click here. ) (emphasis added)

The investigational drug worked. Partly. For a while.

I received it again in two subsequent clinical trials and then two more times after it was FDA approved in 1997 and marketed as Rituxan.

It has been over 21 years since my diagnosis. Words fail me when I try to express my gratitude for the treatments, the researchers, my physicians and nurses, my family and friends and my good fortune. So each year I ask friends and family to support my walk in the Dallas Lymphomathon.

In addition to expressing gratitude for getting me to today, walking is also one way to help ensure that ongoing research is funded. My future still depends on research: Although my cancer is in remission right now, it may come back again. And next time, my lymphoma may be resistant to Rituxan.

Forget about me: Thousands of other lymphoma survivors today need better treatments than those that are available.

Modern textbooks still say my type of lymphoma is incurable. The textbooks are wrong:

My type of cancer is NOT incurable.

It’s one of the types for which researchers are still searching for a cure.”


You can invest in lymphoma research at Wendy’s page (here).

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