Text: Melinda Marchese
Photo: Shea Roggio

“My stage III cancer is now in remission”

Fifty-year-old Yi Zuo firmly believes in the potential of immunotherapy. She herself benefited from it in 2011, in the framework of a clinical trial, when she suffered a recurrence of ovarian cancer.

A dentist by profession, this resident of Philadelphia (USA) discovered in 2009 that she was suffering from a stage III cancer.

“Initially I went to see my physician about constipation problems, she recalls. He prescribed laxatives and encouraged me to eat more vegetables. But that changed nothing. When I felt a lump below my navel, I immediately went back to see him.” An ultrasound revealed the presence of a malignant tumour. “I could see on the faces of the radiologist and technician that the news was not good. It was a Friday afternoon. The following Wednesday, I underwent surgery to have my ovaries and uterus removed.”

She was then given chemotherapy, but this did not prevent a relapse two years later. “When I discovered on the internet site of The Penn Ovarian Cancer Research Center that they were looking for women with ovarian cancer to participate in clinical trials, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I applied and was happy to have been selected. I have always been aware of the severity of my illness, and to benefit from a new therapy was a real opportunity for me. I was also hoping that by serving as a guinea pig I could help other women”.

In May 2012, Yi Zuo began immunotherapy. “The physicians took healthy cells from my body which they then put into culture with cancer cells so that they could learn how to recognise them and fight them.” The vaccine is re-injected in several stages with the aim of boosting the patient’s immune system. “Unlike with chemotherapy, this treatment had no side effects on me.” Although she has not yet returned to work, today Yi Zuo regularly participates in charity sports events for cancer research. “Today I feel good and, above all, my latest tests have revealed no trace of my cancer.”