First Person: I joined a clinical trial—here's why and how it went
Jul 01, 2021 Michelle Mindlin as told to Jeremy Deutchman
Michelle Mindlin is highly experienced with cancer treatments. Over the course of a decade, the 66-year-old has survived—and thrived—thanks to cutting-edge care, a positive outlook and a commitment to staying on top of emerging trends in cancer medicine. Here, she shares her thoughts on joining a cancer clinical trial.
Name: Michelle Mindlin
Hometown: West Hollywood
Career Fields: Entertainment/Theater Management
Pandemic Projects Joining a writing group; geeking out to sports (mostly women's basketball)
Diagnosis: Ovarian Cancer:
How it started
I received my first ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2010. The doctors caught it early, so I was lucky: chemo and surgery, but no radiation. After treatment, I went into remission for six years. But in 2016, it came back with a vengeance, and getting rid of it was extremely difficult. When it came back a third time, my oncologist and I decided it was time to start exploring clinical trials.
Trials and tribulations
Navigating the trials was a rollercoaster. My wife, Denise, and I did a lot of research, and we finally settled on a trial being run by the National Institutes of Health, but I wasn't accepted. I didn't have enough tumor burden—you had to have a large amount of cancer and be a candidate for surgical intervention, but at that point my cancer was small and inoperable. It put me in an odd position: I was basically a cancer patient who was too healthy.
Then I moved on to a different trial, here in L.A., but they closed it literally on the same day I was preparing to sign the paperwork. I was devastated. My amazing doctor, Dr. Alain Mita, fought for me, but the drug company refused to let me in.
Third trial's the charm
We drew up a plan C, and although we were originally less excited about the trial I ended up on, it turned out to be the right choice because it worked! It stopped the cancer from growing—and, in fact, the tumors actually shrank. I was receiving infusions every three weeks, but compared to chemo, it was a dream.
More trials, more options
I'm in a lot of support groups, and I've noticed that the very idea of "clinical trials" can make people freak out because they think it means they're out of options.
I had the opposite experience: The more I met with research oncologists, the more encouraged I was, not only about the amount of research going on, but also about the number of trials available to me that could potentially extend my life.
Armed with information
Being careful about choosing is advice I'd give any prospective trial participants. Do your homework and learn about what the treatment is, what side effects to expect, what phase the trial is in and what the success has been so far. The more information you have, the better.
“The more I met with research oncologists, the more encouraged I was, not only about the amount of research going on, but also about the number of trials available to me that could potentially extend my life."
Allies along the way
I also think people need to find allies to help them on the journey. I'm fortunate to have incredible people in my corner. Denise and my sister come with me to every pivotal doctor's appointment. And I feel grateful for Cedars-Sinai—the care I get there is remarkable.
Cherishing every moment
I've been living with cancer for 11 years, and every moment counts. Denise and I have been together for more than three decades, but when I was diagnosed, we still couldn't get legally married. Now we're about to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. There's a lot to be said for the benefits of clinical trials!