— Life —


Karen Taphorn
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We’ve all lost someone we know to cancer, some of us have had cancer ourselves, but how many people do you know who’ve been saved by a cutting edge, clinical trial? Thanks to a new drug combination clinical trial for metastatic melanoma—funded in part by Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C)—Karen Taphorn is living her life, cancer free.

When Karen volunteered for a clinical trial, her friends told her she’d be a guinea pig, but this clinical trial may have saved her life.

Simply put, metastatic cancer, sometimes referred to as metastasis, means the cancer has spread from the primary site—where it first started—to another part of the body. Because the cells that spread are usually cells that survived initial treatments, patient prognosis is usually not good. At best, for many metastatic cancers, a new course of treatment will hopefully prolong a person’s life. When one drug protocol stops working, and the cancer shows signs of growing again, many patients are given another protocol until their doctors run out of options. In Karen Taphorn’s case, by mid-2013, she’d already had two surgeries for her melanoma when a scan revealed her cancer had returned with a vengeance.

Tests revealed 24 tumors in Karen’s lungs. Standard chemotherapy treatments available to Karen were limited and not very effective. Because the five-year survival rate for metastatic melanoma was about 10 to 15 percent, Karen jumped at a chance to participate in a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City.

Karen’s doctors at MSKCC were evaluating a new treatment, a combination of the immunotherapy drugs ipilumumab (Yervoy) and nivolumab (Opdivo). According to Jedd Wolchok, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist at MSKCC who treated Karen, immunotherapy uses the patient’s own immune system to treat the cancer. The MSKCC clinical trial was based in part on work done by the Stand Up To Cancer-Cancer Research Institute Immunology Dream Team. Dr. Wolchok was a principal investigator in exploring drugs that “release the brakes” on the body’s immune system so it can attack the cancer.

Once a week for three months, Karen Taphorn made the two-hour trip from the Hudson River Valley to New York City for infusions, then every two weeks. Her only side effect was an itchy rash that felt like poison ivy.

The drugs triggered a dramatic response from her immune system. In three months, the tumors in her lungs shrank significantly. In less than a year, they were gone. For another year, Karen participated in the trial. She still gets scans every six months to watch for signs of recurrence. Today Karen says she feels fabulous, and she’s getting on with her life.

As a result of the data from the clinical trial Karen participated in, the Opdivo-Yervoy combination has obtained accelerated approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for a type of advanced melanoma. The combination was also approved for countries in the European Union. Because of SU2C, Karen Taphorn’s clinical trial, and others, is making big advances in the treatment of cancer.

Stand Up To Cancer is one of the most powerful and important catalysts we have in the fight against cancer. One hundred percent of money raised from the public raises goes to support SU2C research itself. SU2C is also breaking the mold in another extraordinary way. Instead of competing for the same research dollars and working in secret, by themselves, SU2C is bringing the best researchers in the world together to collaborate.

If you’re regular readers then you know 12 years ago, I had 10 breast cancer surgeries and eight rounds of chemo. My former site, BreastCancerSisterhood.com gave me the opportunity to meet physicians, research scientists and leaders of the biggest cancer nonprofits. In my opinion, no other organization is in the same league as Stand Up To Cancer and SU2C co-founder, Sherry Lansing. They have my utmost admiration.

Friday, September 9, 2016, Stand Up To Cancer will hold it’s fifth fund-raising telecast. I hope you’ll make a tax deductible donation. Please give what you can to SU2C. Researchers are doing their part. We must do ours. If you’re interested in reading my interview with Sherry Lansing, click here.


Love, Brenda


  • Esther Zimmer July 23, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Thank you for constantly highlighting such important stories and issues, Brenda. I’m glad Karen’s story had such a positive outcome. That date is in the diary, I’ll definitely be donating. Much love, Essie xxxx

    • Brenda Coffee July 24, 2016 at 9:59 am

      Thank you, Essie. Your and my financial support to an ethical organization like SU2C is the only way we have a prayer of stopping this hideous disease. Thank you, sweet friend. Much love, Brenda

  • Barbara July 23, 2016 at 11:27 am

    I will gladly support SU2C. The Susan G. Koman group spend a pittance on research. The money wasted on the entire ‘pink’ idea is absurd. I can’t imagine the cost to outfit the NFL and others in pink in October and can only think of what could actually be done with that money. Thank you for staying in the fight, even after you’ve beat it, Brenda!

    • Brenda Coffee July 24, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Barbara, you’re so astute to realize the showmanship of cancer has nothing to do with finding an end to cancer. When I had my BreastCancerSisterhood.com site, I gave the Komen organization–at the highest level and at Komen’s request–the chance to answer their critics. I stayed openminded until Komen proved their critics right: Big salaries, private jets and getting corporate America to put pink ribbons on products have nothing to do with furthering breast cancer research and everything to do with the ego at the top of the Komen organization. At first I experienced disbelief and then I realized my other breast cancer advocates were right: Komen had used me. Never again, will I buy any product that has a pink ribbon on it. Thank you, my friend, for your support of Stand Up to Cancer. They are the real deal. xoxox, Brenda

  • Jen Lawrence July 25, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    That’s fantastic news. What a terrific organization. And I’m glad you are pointing out the difference between organizations supporting real research and pinkwashing. When I see a pink ribbon on a product containing known carcinogens it makes me spitting mad. Thank you for using your voice to highlight an important issue and to celebrate real victories in this area.

    • 1010ParkPlace July 30, 2016 at 9:26 am

      Jen, I’m compelled to speak up. Cancer is wicked. The real champions and heroes are the patients and their families and Standup to Cancer. xoxox, B

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