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Gig Harbor woman's cancer in remission, thanks to DNA testing

Posted on Dec. 18, 2015 ( comments)
Marie Dougil personalized medicine horizontal

Marie Dougil's cancer is now in remission, thanks to advances in genomic testing that allow for targeted treatment. Dougil works for Lighthouse Christian School in Gig Harbor.

Little more than a year ago, Marie Dougil felt like she was nearly out of options.

After five years of chemotherapy — trying first one drug, then another — the tumors in Dougil’s liver weren’t going away. Her doctor at the MultiCare Regional Cancer Center told her they might need to resume one of her previous chemotherapy drugs.

Or, her doctor said, Dougil could try a new approach: personalized medicine, in which MultiCare uses genetic material from a patient’s cancer cells to determine a treatment program specific to the patient. After all, it doesn’t get more individualized than DNA.

So Dougil agreed.

Just a few weeks later, the tests came back, identifying an oral medication as a potential match for Dougil’s cancer. She started taking the pill, Afinitor, nightly, and within three months, her tumors started shrinking, and her liver functions improved. Her cancer is now in remission.

“It’s given me so much hope,” said Dougil, a 48-year-old Gig Harbor bookkeeper. “This specific testing they did is why my body is responding so well, because it’s personalized to me.”

Through personalized medicine, doctors obtain DNA material from a patient’s biopsy. Next Generation Gene Sequencing analyzes the material, and doctors compare that evaluation with data on medications, clinical trials and other treatment options to recommend a plan that is customized to the patient.

At MultiCare, many patients being treated for cancer are tested for genomic markers that could lead to various treatment options. As gene-sequencing technology has evolved in recent months, the approach has been applied to an increasing number of patients, usually after their cancer has progressed beyond standard treatment methods, said John Keech, MD, Dougil’s doctor at the MultiCare Regional Cancer Center in Gig Harbor and an oncologist for 32 years. 

“We are truly in a revolutionary new era of cancer care,” Dr. Keech said.

Dougil is no stranger to cancer. In 1997, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which went into remission until 2009, when tumors emerged in her liver. By the time she was in her fifth year of chemotherapy, she was so exhausted she had to quit her job at Lighthouse Christian School. She could barely walk.

These days, she can walk five miles regularly and has returned to the school part-time.

Marie Dougil

“My quality of life has improved so much,” Dougil said. “I feel healthy, almost like I did before I was diagnosed.”

She said she does miss one thing, though: the staff at the MultiCare Regional Cancer Center. Because now that she no longer has chemotherapy, she doesn’t have to go to the doctor so often.

Still, Dougil feels this new approach to cancer treatment was a blessing, and came at just the right time.

“I am a woman of faith and I believe that God allows things to happen for a reason,” she said.

“I feel that this new method of genetic testing is a huge blessing and came at the right time for a purpose. I want to encourage others, no matter what their prognosis, to live each day with purpose and to be a blessing to others."

Posted in: Cancer

About The Author

Kim Eckart

Kim Eckart is a Seattle-based writer.

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