When doctors diagnosed Teresa McKeown with stage 4 breast cancer in 2016, she prepared for the worst. While she had already beaten it once in 2003, this time her tumors came back with a vengeance, causing a small bowel obstruction that made it difficult for her to eat. Her health rapidly declined in the seven months following her diagnosis, and her weight dropped to under 100 pounds.
“At that point, I was really heading towards hospice,” she said. “I was wrapping up life.”
After continuously failing numerous chemotherapy treatments, McKeown found herself in a very dire place and began to write goodbye journals to her three children. On those pages, she said tried to “foresee and condense a lifetime of a mother’s love.”
But thanks to a clinical trial done at the hands of surgical oncologist Jason Sicklick, MD, at the Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, her children won’t have to live without their mother’s love.
“I remember when I was very, very sick just wanting to know if there was anyone out there with stage 4 who was alive,” she said. Eventually, she did come across someone with stage 4 who was participating in a clinical trial and seeing great results. Finally, McKeown found something she had been searching for a long time: hope.
So, she asked Dr. Sicklick if there were any clinical trials she would be a candidate for, and he said yes. McKeown enrolled in a trial, and after two infusions, her tumor markers had dropped by 75%. After eight weeks of treatment, she had a complete response.
She was declared cancer-free in the summer of 2017.
“It absolutely turned my health around, 180,” she said. “And it’s been nothing but healing ever since.”
Stories like McKeown were on display at the 26th annual Luau and Legends of Surfing Invitational, a major fundraiser for the Moores Cancer Center. Held on Aug. 18 at Scripps Pier, the event brings together more than 500 surfers, doctors, and cancer survivors to raise over $720,000 for the Moores Cancer Center.
“The depth of knowledge and cutting-edge precision therapy at Moores Cancer Center lead patients from across the country and from abroad to seek the care and expertise of our clinicians,” said Scott. M. Lippman, director of the Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, in a press release. “The support we receive through the Luau and Legends of Surfing Invitational helps accomplish our mission of saving lives by creating a world where a cancer diagnosis is a bump in the road, not the end of it.
McKeown shares the same sentiment.
“I never could have imagined that that was going to be my journey,” she said. “Right now, it feels like there are not a whole lot of stories identical to mine, but I really believe with all my heart that I’m at the front end of a long line of people.
“One day, what happened to me will be an expected response — not an outlier.”
For more information about the Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, visit health.ucsd.edu.