Advancements In Ovarian Cancer
- Sherry Pollex, 44, the former longtime partner of NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr., was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2014 and has been battling the disease ever since.
- Despite battling cancer, Pollex has dedicated her life to helping other patients, becoming the founder of the Sherry Strong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic at Novant Health in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- She has also found success in writing her blog and managing the Sherry Strong website. Pollex also has traveled across the US to motivational speaking events and owns a boutique clothing store.
- “I think it's a really exciting time for ovarian cancer treatment advancements,” Dr. Monica Vetter, a gynecological oncologist at Baptist Health Medical Group in Lexington, Kentucky, previously told SurvivorNet. “For a long time there really weren't many changes or advancements (in treatment), which was really frustrating for people.
- Newer medicines approved to treat ovarian cancer include PARP inhibitors, which work by preventing cancer cells from being able to repair DNA damage, which then leads to cell death.
Now, nearly 10 years after her diagnosis, Pollex is working on the things she’d like to change about cancer and provide women with all the information they need on ovarian cancer.Read More
“If you really look at your life, no matter what your situation is and how bad your disease is, there's always something to be thankful for when you wake up in the morning,” Pollex told Coping Magazine a few years back.
“But even on the days when I didn't feel good through chemotherapy, I tried to find small moments of gratitude throughout the day.”
Pollex has found success in writing her blog and managing the Sherry Strong website. She also has traveled across the U.S. to attend motivational speaking events and owns a boutique clothing store.
Through all of her hard work, though, she’s learned that she “can’t do it all.” But she’s found ways to manage her time in the best way possible.
“On those days when I feel overwhelmed, I just take a step back and remember what's really important to me and what I need to work on first,” she told the magazine. “And most of the time, it's taking care of me first, and then everything else comes second.”
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Pollex even opened up to SurvivorNet last year, explaining how it’s difficult to picture herself as a warrior when she’s in “fight or flight mode.”
“We get to this point when we want to live so bad, we'll do anything to survive,” Pollex, who is known in the racing community for her strength and courage, said. “To me the definition of a warrior is someone who won't stop. I would hope anyone in my situation would do that.”
She first learned she had Stage 3C ovarian cancer in July 2014. “That's when they found it had spread from the ovaries through the peritoneal area (space in the abdomen that contains organs). It looked like a bomb went off inside of my body. I had tumors from my ovaries all the way up to my rib cage,” she recounted.
However, Pollex, who had no history of ovarian cancer in her family, admitted that she learned to see her cancer as “a badge of honor.”
Meanwhile, Pollex and her former longtime love, NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr., recently broke up. Truex Jr. took to his Instagram to say, “I will continue supporting Sherry moving forward.”
Despite the sad news and no recent updates this summer on Pollex’s current health condition, we’re sure she’s continuing to remain optimistic and enjoy life as it comes.
Pollex previously told The Athletic that her cancer may help her pave the way for other cancer fighters.
“I often wonder if that's my purpose here,” she said. “It's maybe not what I would have chosen for myself nobody really wants to be the poster child for any type of cancer but maybe I'm supposed to go through all this so I can pave the way for other women.”
She continued, “On some days, that can be a really hard pill to swallow. But on other days, it's like, ‘You know, I've been given this really important role in this life, and if I'm going to leave a legacy behind and help other people, then I need to do it 100 percent.'”
Sherry Pollex’s Ovarian Cancer Journey
Sherry Pollex was given a 30% chance of survival over the course of five years when she was diagnosed in 2014 at age 35 with ovarian cancer, TobyChristie.com previously reported.
Now, nearly 10 years later and counting, Pollex continues to live a full life with cancer. She has entered remission a number of times. Her cancer returned in July 2022 and spread to her lung and esophagus.
The last time Pollex underwent chemotherapy, a few months before her latest recurrence, was when she discovered her cancer was what they call "platinum-resistant,” so she and her medical team are determined to find other options.
Pollex previously underwent her first debulking surgery, which took eight hours, in August 2014 at Novant Health in Charlotte. Debulking is important when the cancer has spread throughout the belly. One report said she had 40-50 tumors.
However, she can't confirm that, saying instead, “If you picked up a handful of sand, it was like that plaque-like tumors blanketing my peritoneal area. I had a radical hysterectomy, liver resection, colon resection, appendectomy, stomach scraped. It was intense. Waking up after that surgery, was like, ‘Whoa. You've gotten cut from your sternum to your pubic bone.'”
Six rounds of IV chemotherapy followed, using a port near her rib cage.
“For eight hours they chemo wash you. They turn you around. Every 8 hours. That was the toughest six months of my life.”
And that's when she stopped recognizing herself. “You weigh 80 pounds, no hair, no eyelashes.”
She recovered and had a reprieve until the cancer returned 15 months later in her spleen and liver. Another surgery was on the horizon and six more months of chemotherapy.
In 2017, she started taking a drug called a PARP inhibitor, which prevents cancer cells from repairing their damaged DNA and multiplying.
Pollex also got into integrative modalities and noticed another area for improvement in the cancer world.
“There's such a breakdown in our system of teaching cancer patients how to take care of themselves after we pump them full of drugs. You cannot be in the same environment you got sick in. We need to be teaching patients that,” she said.
Integrative medicine for Pollex meant eating healthy foods, doing yoga and meditation and spending time in a hyperbaric chamber. (A hyperbaric chamber is an enclosure where a user breathes in oxygen at levels above normal atmospheric pressure.)
She follows a ketogenic diet and gets "mistletoe injections in my body every week."
It’s important to note that she stresses her regimen is not for every patient.
"I don't recommend you go out and start taking them. You need to have a doctor overseeing that care." She adds that it's not covered by insurance another factor to consider.
To help make sure patients have access to integrative medicine, she opened the Sherry Strong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic in November 2020, which offers services such as oncology massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and nutrition counseling to patients regardless of their ability to pay.
Advancements In Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Gynecological oncologists previously told SurvivorNet that right now is an exciting time for advancements in treating ovarian cancer.
“For a long time there really weren't many changes or advancements (in treatment), which was really frustrating for people,” Dr. Monica Vetter, a gynecological oncologist at Baptist Health Medical Group in Lexington, Ky., tells SurvivorNet.
But, Vetter adds, “It's been really exciting because over the past 10 years, there have been a number of new approvals for new medication (to treat ovarian cancer).”
PARP inhibitors, which stands for poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase, are relatively new to cancer care. The first PARP inhibitor drug, olaparib (sold under the brand name Lynparza), was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014 for BRCA-mutated cancers that had progressed after more than three lines of therapy; this means that someone had to have had cancer that progressed or worsened on three previous forms of therapy.
The drug was then approved by the FDA in 2018 to be used for first-line maintenance.
There are now three FDA-approved PARP inhibitor drugs for ovarian cancer olaparib, as well as niraparib (sold under the brand name Zejula) and rucaparib (sold under the brand name Rubraca).
These medications are taken orally and work by preventing cancer cells from being able to repair DNA damage, which then leads to cell death.
"These medications are exciting because they've been studied in different patient populations and different settings," Vetter says of PARP inhibitors.
Vetter explains that these drugs are typically used as maintenance therapy to prevent the cancer from recurring or progressing after surgery and traditional chemotherapy. PARP inhibitors can be used during the first diagnosis of ovarian cancer as a maintenance medication, or used as a maintenance drug with recurring ovarian cancer.
When used this way, PARP inhibitors can potentially prolong ovarian cancer remission and prevent a recurrence of the disease for an extended period of time in some cases, even for good, Dr. David Engle, a gynecological oncologist at Baptist Medical Group in Memphis, Tenn., tells SurvivorNet.
"PARPs are probably the most exciting advancement (in treatment) really," Vetter says.
Dr. Dana Chase, a gynecologic oncologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, tells SurvivorNet that besides PARP inhibitors, there hasn't been much further development when it comes to FDA-approved ovarian cancer treatments.
But she did say there are a lot of promising clinical trials happening right now. If she has a patient she knows won't respond as well to PARP inhibitors or other ovarian cancer treatments used over the last few decades, she'll recommend a clinical trial.
"Clinical trials are still very much at the beginning," she says of ovarian cancer treatment research. "I would say to patients that there's this awesome website, clinicaltrials.gov; they can look for trials in their area (on the website.) That's always worth asking for."
Other Ovarian Cancer Treatments
For decades, Vetter explains, the combination of two chemotherapy drugs called carboplatin and paclitaxel have been the backbone of ovarian cancer treatment. The most common chemo drug for ovarian cancer patients is a platinum-based agent, such as carboplatin, cisplatin or oxaliplatin.
Patients with ovarian cancer will typically receive another chemo drug known as taxanes in combination with their platinum-based drug. The taxane drug used most often in the United States is called paclitaxel, which is often known as Taxol.
This treatment method was the "gold standard" and the only FDA-approved treatment for this type of cancer for about 20 years, until 2010. One of the first medications to get approval over the last decade, Dr. Vetter says, was bevacizumab, which is sold under the brand name Avastin.
"That led to FDA approval for recurrent ovarian cancer and newly diagnosed ovarian cancer," Vetter says. "It's an interesting medicine because it's a little different than traditional chemotherapy it works by impacting blood vessel formation; it prevents tumor cells from creating new blood vessels."
Bevacizumab is used as a combination drug with chemotherapy and then as a maintenance drug, Vetter says.
Bevacizumab blocks a certain protein called a "vascular endothelial growth factor," which helps tumors grow, Dr. Beth Karlan, a gynecological oncologist at UCLA Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet.
In other words, rather than killing cancer cells themselves, as chemo does, bevacizumab chokes the cells at their roots, limiting blood supply to the tumor cells.
Since the FDA approval of bevacizumab, PARP inhibitors have been the next big breakthrough in ovarian cancer treatment, according to Vetter. In 2020, using a PARP inhibitor with bevacizumab was approved by the FDA, so the usage of this treatment for ovarian cancer is relatively new.
"I use them (PARP inhibitors) in my practice," Vetter says, "I think at this point most gynecological oncologists use PARP inhibitors."
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff