Twelve years after Teresa McKeown beat stage 3 breast cancer with a brutal regimen of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, the disease returned, more aggressively than before. This time chemotherapy failed. Day after day, she sat in a chair in her living room, too sick to move. She kept four journals, one each for her husband and her three grown children, and mustered the strength to write her thoughts about a future she didn’t expect to share.
She withered to 98 pounds because tumors in her bowel made it almost impossible to eat. McKeown is not one to rage or panic, but before surgery to remove the blockage, she made a rare admission of anguish. “I am so praying that if things are not going to end well for me or there is a complication following this surgery, that I just pretty quickly pass away,” she recalled telling her older daughter. “I don’t know how much more pain I can tolerate.”
Desperate and determined, she asked her surgeon, Jason Sicklick, if he knew of any experimental treatments that might buy her more time. As it happened, he is a co-leader of a study at the cutting edge of what’s come to be called precision, or personalized, medicine.