IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Breast cancer patient: Part of groundbreaking movement toward healing

Patient Stories

July 22, 2019

Long before she received her own cancer diagnosis Georgia Strickland was part of a team that made Simon Cancer Center a reality. Now she’s part of another team – one taking part in a new clinical trial.

As she relaxed in an infusion pod at IU Simon Cancer Center Georgia Strickland enjoyed a hand massage from CompleteLife Therapist Michelle Bailey. The scene was something that was only in the planning stages years ago.

“My first job was working in the office of gift development with the IU School of Medicine 13 years ago. It was a time when we were raising money for the Simon Cancer Center,” said Strickland. It was also a time when hematologist/oncologist Dr. Larry Cripe had a vision of including comprehensive therapy that attends to the patient’s body, mind, and spirit. The program became known as CompleteLife and includes music, art, and massage therapy, yoga relaxation and appearance consultations for cancer patients.

“I think treatment for cancer and for the caretakers is a rollercoaster. If you can escape that through reading and counseling and other outlets that is phenomenal. I have a strong faith and support network,” said Strickland, who is married to William Capello. She has four sons; her husband has a son and daughter and together they have several grandchildren that make up “Team GiGi.”

Diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, Strickland has experienced firsthand the compassion from another team – her doctors at IU Health. She first came to Simon Cancer Center as a patient seven years ago. Since then she has been in the care of Drs. Anna Maria Storniolo, Bryan Schneider, Kathy Miller, and Milan Radovich and is now taking part in a trial through IU Health’s Precision Genomics Program. Rather than use a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis and treatment, researchers use full or partial gene sequencing to determine the best and most individualized treatment option for patients with advanced-stage cancers. By analyzing a patient’s genetic makeup doctors can determine specific responses to mutations in the tumor.

Triple negative breast cancer is a particularly aggressive form of the cancer that disproportionately affects young women and African American women. Currently, there are no targeted therapies for triple negative breast cancer that work for the vast majority of women with the disease. So personalized therapies are designed to attack the cancer.

The trial called “An Initial Safety Study of Gedatolisib Plus PTK7-ADC for Metastatic Triple Negative Breast Cancer” is based on five years of research, said Dr. Radovich, who along with Dr. Miller is the principal investigator on the trial. During the research phase, Dr. Radovich and his team analyzed triple negative breast cancer tumors and compared them to healthy non-cancerous breast tissue. The goal was to determine exactly what happened to cause the cancer cells to develop, and then determine the best drug to tackle the disease.

“Georgia had a specific mutation on her tumor genome sequencing that we believe would make her tumor sensitive to this drug combo,” said Dr. Radovich. Strickland is one of only 18 patients enrolled in the trial that is based on effective genomically-directed drug combinations specific to treating triple-negative breast cancer, and possibly finding a cure. One patient reported tumor shrinkage by 52 percent – after six weeks of treatment of the aggressive form of breast cancer. As part of the trial, IU Health patients are the first in the world to receive the unique two-drug combination.

“To be sitting here in a building that I walked through when it was just a vision doesn’t seem possible,” said Strickland. “I know there are other hospitals in the city but there’s no place else I’d go. I have great faith in the care and it’s not just for me, it’s for every patient.”

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    -- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
    Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

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