In the winter of 2016 Charlotte Grad was babysitting her grandson and felt an excruciating pain in her hip. She had always been active and assumed she “was just getting old.” She took some Advil and went to see her chiropractor, but to her surprise, the pain didn’t improve.
By February 2017 Charlotte had a bone scan – and an answer. She didn’t have hip problems. She had Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. To make matters worse, she also had a genetic mutation, known as “double-hit lymphoma” which resisted chemotherapy. “The tumour would just grow and shrink and grow” she said.
Given the dire prognosis Charlotte was unable to qualify for a stem-cell transplant and in October had been told her only option was to ease the pain with palliative radiation. She was given six months to a year to live and began organizing the end of her life. Charlotte remembers her trial coordinator nurse, Daniel, saying, “Don’t worry, Dr. Kuruvilla will find something.”
Dr. John Kuruvilla was Charlotte’s primary hematologist, and Daniel was right. He did find something. He presented Charlotte with the option of CAR-T cell therapy (Chimeric Antigen Receptor), a revolutionary new therapy that was still in trial phases in Canada. She was surprised she qualified, but said, “If it will help, I’ll try anything.”
Charlotte doesn’t remember much about that final treatment because it started a “cytokine storm”, an immune system response that left her in and out of consciousness for close to five days, but she does remember the persistence of her children. “They created a rotating schedule and, between the three of them, never left me alone for a second,” Charlotte said.
On September 24, 2020 Charlotte celebrated two years into remission and is thrilled to be hiking outside with her loving, devoted partner and her “old hip” again.