Shortly after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in May 2004, Dorinda Hickey”s concern shifted.
The Starkville native and 15-year Columbus resident didn”t retreat into a shell. She didn”t dwell on her problems. Instead, she thought of others.
“I just always felt like giving back to the community. If I can do something and give back at the same point, why not?” Hickey said.
So she asked her doctor about medical trials, and it happened that near her home in Austin, Texas, Lilly Pharmaceuticals was conducting an experimental treatment.
Hickey, a former student at Mississippi University for Women, was put on a fast-track chemotherapy treatment that sped up the normal rate at which a test group of 20 participants were treated.
One phase of the treatment involved drawing bone marrow from the individual”s hip, treating the marrow with radiation, then reinserting the marrow back in the hip. Another required an intravenous drip being inserted for an hour-and-a-half.
“They”ve been doing that for a while,” explains Hickey. “The experimental thing is how often we did it.”
Average chemotherapy treatments are spread out over a 12-week period during which patients are treated every two weeks. Members in Hickey”s experimental groups were treated every 10 days.
Therefore, the long-term treatment went by quicker, but the debilitating effects of each session came sooner.
“About 3 percent of people get sick the day of treatment. The rest get sick the next day,” said Hickey. She was one of the few to get sick the same day.
“My friends would pick me up and I”d throw up in their car on the way home,” she said.
Then there was the fatigue. Hickey says the treatments would wipe her out for the day.
“I spent a lot of time sleeping on my friends” couches,” she says.
Still, through the ordeal, Hickey continued her job as a house cleaner.
“She was cooperative, tired and very sweet to everyone,” said Janice Carpenter, a social worker involved with the experiment who called attention to Hickey”s case. “She threw up constantly when in treatment and was tired for several days after. But as most of our patients, she stayed as normal as possible doing as much as she could and working.”
Carpenter says the courage of people like Hickey to try experimental treatments helps advance the field of cancer research.
“Thanks to people like Mrs. Hickey these projects work.,” Carpenter said.
Fortunately for Hickey, the project worked for her as well. She recovered and is currently cancer-free, but won”t be classified as “in remission” until five years have passed.
She also won”t find out the results of the study she participated in until five years have passed, but her group was reunited at an Austin park in September for a thank-you celebration with barbecue and a live band.
The participants were given armbands to identify them. Hickey sent her armband to her mother, a breast cancer survivor who still lives in Starkville with Hickey”s father.
Hickey looks back on her ordeal now with the perspective of a survivor.
“I”m sure I would have recovered regardless. They caught mine early and it wasn”t terribly bad,” she said. But the thought of relapse does pop up.
“I think about it some, but I”m not worried about it,” she said.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.