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God, new cancer drug receive credit for woman's survival

July 15, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Joy Eldridge says she owes her life to God - and Gleevec.

When several surgeries failed to stop the recurrence of tumors in her abdomen seven years ago, Eldridge agreed to test the new cancer drug that is continuing to shrink her cancerous tumor.

"It all started in 1995 when a mass the size of a grapefruit was found and removed," she said from the Hagerstown home she shares with her husband of 59 years, Clarence Eldridge.

For the next four years, nothing happened.

"Then it was back in 1999 and more surgery, and then a year and a half later and it was back again," Clarence Eldridge said.

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The Eldridges were told that neither chemotherapy nor radiation would be appropriate in Joy Eldridge's case.

Dr. Neil Rosenshein, a surgeon at Mercy Medical Center, was the first to mention the possibility of Joy Eldridge taking Gleevec to arrest the growth of more tumors.

Now the Eldridges travel back and forth to the Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center every two weeks, where Joy Eldridge is a patient at the Washington Cancer Institute there.

A chart detailing the size of her tumor shows with each progressive CAT scan that the tumor is continuing to get smaller now that she is on Gleevec.

Joy Eldridge's physician in Hagerstown is Dr. Michael McCormack, who monitors her progress.

The actual clinical name of Joy Eldridge's cancer is gastrointestinal stromal tumor, or GIST. While it is described in literature as a rare cancer, the Eldridges both said they didn't actually hear the "C" word for a long time after the condition showed up seven years ago.

"We heard 'mass' and 'tumor' but the word 'cancer' wasn't spoken," said Clarence Eldridge. When surgical removal failed and the opportunity to test the new drug came along, they jumped at the chance.

The drug targets stomach cancers and has a success rate of shrinking tumors in at least 60 percent of the people who take it.

"I have some side effects but I can deal with them," said Joy Eldridge. Her eyes are swollen and she often experiences leg cramps and swelling of the ankles.

She has resumed many of her normal activities though, including bowling, playing bridge and having lunch with her many friends.

The Eldridges have one child, Julie Carbaugh, who with her husband, Ken, has been very supportive of the experimental drug program because they have seen the benefits it has brought to Joy Eldridge.

"Julie and Ken have been just wonderful through all this," Joy Eldridge said.

And the Eldridges are particularly happy they are still enjoying each other's company through some scary experiences the past few years.

Prayers and well wishes combined with an experimental new drug have proved to be strong allies in Joy Eldridge's fight for life.

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