Published Aug 4, 2021
When Becca Cahill, 35, was diagnosed with late-stage endometrial cancer, she had no intention of giving up hope. While facing a second recurrence, Cahill pushed pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to assist her with potentially life-saving drugs. Her community rallied around her, and this resilient woman finally has hope again.
Cahill was initially diagnosed with advanced endometrial cancer (also referred to as uterine cancer) in May 2017, just three weeks before she planned to get married. She was only exhibiting symptoms including nausea and stomach pains, but her doctors’ prognosis wasn’t promising. Despite her doctors’ advice to cancel the wedding and spend time with her loved ones, Cahill started chemotherapy and married her now-husband Marshall Smith. She went through chemo treatments for seven months and also had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus). She ended up in remission after going through the procedure, but a year later in May 2019 the cancer returned.
She successfully completed a combination therapy of chemotherapy drugs for the first recurrence, but unfortunately the disease returned yet again in July 2020. However, Cahill refused to give up. She was accepted into an AstraZeneca trail using a medication that targets a gene mutation she has, and initially saw incredible results when her tumors began to shrink significantly.
Despite initially seeing good results, Cahill’s platelet count started to drop dramatically after going through the therapy for nearly four months. This put her at high risk of stroke or excessive bleeding, so she had to discontinue the trial. Cahill immediately asked the company if she could receive a weaker dose of the trial drug in order to reduce the impact of the side-effects, but they refused. This prompted Cahill to take her challenge to the public, and she created a Change.org petition asking people to demand AstraZeneca give her a lower dose of the medication on behalf of the Right to Try Act.
During this time, Cahill experienced a blockage in her lower intestine which caused her to lose so much weight she was just 84 pounds. Fortunately for Cahill and her loved ones their hard work paid off. The petition gained nearly 114,000 signatures, and at the end of July AstraZeneca agreed to give Cahill a lower dose of the potentially life-saving drug. “We are committed to the safety and well-being of all patients taking our medicines,” a spokesperson for AstraZeneca said in a statement. “We will continue to offer solutions for Becca through her doctor and care team.”
Now back on the trial drug, Cahill has hope for the future. “I feel optimistic for the first time in months,” Cahill told The New York Post. “It’s given me strength and a new sense of purpose.”
The Right to Try Act, which was signed into law in May 2018, offers certain patients access to certain unapproved treatments, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It was designed for patients who have been diagnosed with life-threatening diseases or conditions, who have exhausted all treatment options, and who are unable to participate in a clinical trial.
The FDA outlines specific criteria for the patients who opt-in—as well as for the treatments they hope to try. For instance, the Act defines “eligible investigational drugs” as those for which a Phase 1 clinical trial has been completed. Other criteria includes therapies that have not been approved or licensed by the FDA for any use, therapies where an application has been filed with the FDA or is under investigation in a clinical trial in support of FDA approval, and therapies whose active development or production is ongoing, and that has not been discontinued by the manufacturer or placed on clinical hold by the FDA.
“After early phase studies, my preference would be to enroll patients onto clinical trials of investigational drugs—or to obtain single patient INDs (Investigational New Drug applications)—where we can monitor those patients much more closely and educate other patients about the efficacy of these drugs than we would through a Right to Try approach,” Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, chief of hematology at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
Clinical trials can be life-saving for people who have diseases that are not responding to typical first-line treatments. These trials, which allow people access to new drugs that are currently being developed by pharmaceutical companies, can have successful outcomes and also help research progress.
That being said, clinical trials aren’t for everyone. In order to be accepted into a trial, a person must meet certain requirements in order to keep the participant safe. Furthermore, a person may be pulled out of the trial at the recommendation of their doctor if they don’t see any progress or start experiencing side-effects which put them in danger. This was the case for Cahill, as her platelet count started to go down in dangerous levels.