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How a DIY Maven Took on Her Biggest Project Yet – Fighting Cancer

One woman’s inspiring story

Carol Willis with her daughter Mindy

Carol Willis, left, with her daughter Mindy.

Carol’s Story

In 2015, Carol Willis* was in her 19th year of teaching elementary school students. She had just downsized to a new home in Southern Louisiana that needed renovation, and she eagerly dove into numerous remodeling projects. When Carol began feeling tired and losing weight, she assumed the symptoms were a result of being stretched thin between working full-time and the physical toll of hands-on home renovation.

Her mother and daughter, both nurses, had noticed the changes in Carol, but she wasn’t too concerned. When she discovered a lump on her side, she again attributed it to her hard work around the house – possibly a hernia from all the heavy lifting. She brought the thought up to her mother and daughter, and they immediately raised the alarm. They explained that her symptoms weren’t consistent with a hernia and urged her to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Carol listened and ultimately learned she had advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC), a type of kidney cancer. Though she underwent surgery to remove both the tumor and her right kidney, her doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to her lungs and liver.

“I don’t think anybody ever expects to be told ‘you have cancer,’ and my diagnosis certainly came as a surprise,” said Carol. “Kidney cancer threw me for a loop, but I didn’t want to waste any time worrying and not acting – I was determined to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could and find out what could be done to help beat it.”

Understanding Her Options

With her family by her side, Carol got to work. She browsed the internet for information, set up a series of appointments and talked to specialists about what to do next.

“I started writing down my questions or concerns anytime they came to mind, which helped me have meaningful conversations with my healthcare team. I felt like I was able to better understand my condition and my options,” Carol explained.

“It’s all about communication, whether you’re the patient or a family member,” Carol continued. “Never be afraid to ask questions and always share any health concerns, such as changes in symptoms. It’s what ultimately led me to receive the treatment that was right for me.”

Carol discussed options with her care team. Within a year of her diagnosis, she began treatment with a combination of two immunotherapy medicines, Opdivo® (nivolumab) + Yervoy® (ipilimumab), as part of a clinical trial studying these medicines in certain patients with RCC that has spread.

INDICATION

OPDIVO® (nivolumab) is a prescription medicine used in combination with YERVOY® (ipilimumab) to treat kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) in certain people when their cancer has spread.

OPDIVO (10 mg/mL) and YERVOY (5 mg/mL) are injections for intravenous use.

It is not known if OPDIVO is safe and effective in children younger than 18 years of age.

Select Important Safety Information

Opdivo + Yervoy can cause problems that can sometimes become serious or life threatening and can lead to death. Serious side effects may include lung problems (pneumonitis); intestinal problems (colitis) that can lead to tears or holes in your intestine; liver problems (hepatitis); hormone gland problems (especially the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal glands and pancreas); kidney problems, including nephritis and kidney failure; skin problems; inflammation of the brain (encephalitis); problems in other organs; and severe infusion reactions. Additional serious side effects observed during a separate study of Yervoy alone include nerve problems that can lead to paralysis and eye problems. The most common side effects of OPDIVO, when used in combination with YERVOY, include: feeling tired; rash; diarrhea; nausea; fever; pain in muscle, bones, and joints; itching; abdominal pain; vomiting; cough; decreased appetite; and shortness of breath.

Study Design and Results

In a clinical trial of 847 previously untreated patients with kidney cancer that has spread and with one or more risk factors, 425 patients received treatment with Opdivo + Yervoy and 422 patients received sunitinib, a standard of care. Two years later (25.2 months), Opdivo + Yervoy was shown to lower the risk of dying by 37 percent compared to sunitinib. Sixty-seven percent of patients treated with Opdivo + Yervoy were alive after 25.2 months, compared to 56 percent of patients treated with sunitinib. More patients achieved a response with Opdivo + Yervoy (n=177) when compared to sunitinib (n=112). Tumors shrank or disappeared completely in 41.6% of patients who received Opdivo + Yervoy versus 26.5% of patients who received sunitinib. Tumors shrank (partial response) in 32.2% of patients receiving Opdivo + Yervoy and disappeared completely (complete response) in 9.4% of these patients – versus 25.4% and 1.2% of patients receiving sunitinib, respectively. There was no meaningful difference between the two treatment approaches in the length of time that patients lived without their tumors worsening.

When Carol went for follow-ups with her doctor, she learned that her tumors shrank completely. (Results are not typical. Opdivo + Yervoy will not work for everyone, and results may vary.)

Carol credits her family with helping her stay encouraged and determined in the face of cancer. Now she wants to pay it forward – and hopes her experience will help someone else.

“It wasn’t always easy. The support of my family as well as the kidney cancer community made all the difference in how I was able to face my diagnosis and treatment,” explained Carol.

Today, whether it’s joining in a crawfish boil or just spending time with her family, Carol makes sure to cherish every moment she is given.

“As a wife, mom and grandma, I am grateful that I can today return to many of my favorite activities and hobbies – and, most importantly, that I have more time to spend with the people I love the most.”

Fortunately for patients like Carol, the Opdivo + Yervoy combination has been shown to help certain patients with advanced RCC live longer. Learn more about Opdivo + Yervoy and find out if it’s the right treatment option for you or your loved one.

*Carol is a Bristol-Myers Squibb Patient Ambassador.

INDICATION

OPDIVO® (nivolumab) is a prescription medicine used in combination with YERVOY® (ipilimumab) to treat kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) in certain people when their cancer has spread.

It is not known if OPDIVO is safe and effective in children younger than 18 years of age.

Important Safety Information for OPDIVO® (nivolumab) + YERVOY® (ipilimumab)

OPDIVO is a medicine that may treat certain cancers by working with your immune system. OPDIVO can cause your immune system to attack normal organs and tissues in any area of your body and can affect the way they work. These problems can sometimes become serious or life-threatening and can lead to death. These problems may happen anytime during treatment or even after your treatment has ended. Some of these problems may happen more often when OPDIVO is used in combination with YERVOY.

YERVOY can cause serious side effects in many parts of your body which can lead to death. These problems may happen anytime during treatment with YERVOY or after you have completed treatment.

Serious side effects may include:

  • Lung problems (pneumonitis). Symptoms of pneumonitis may include: new or worsening cough; chest pain; and shortness of breath.
  • Intestinal problems (colitis) that can lead to tears or holes in your intestine. Signs and symptoms of colitis may include: diarrhea (loose stools) or more bowel movements than usual; blood in your stools or dark, tarry, sticky stools; and severe stomach area (abdomen) pain or tenderness.
  • Liver problems (hepatitis). Signs and symptoms of hepatitis may include: yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes; severe nausea or vomiting; pain on the right side of your stomach area (abdomen); drowsiness; dark urine (tea colored); bleeding or bruising more easily than normal; feeling less hungry than usual; and decreased energy.
  • Hormone gland problems (especially the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal glands, and pancreas). Signs and symptoms that your hormone glands are not working properly may include: headaches that will not go away or unusual headaches; extreme tiredness; weight gain or weight loss; dizziness or fainting; changes in mood or behavior, such as decreased sex drive, irritability, or forgetfulness; hair loss; feeling cold; constipation; voice gets deeper; and excessive thirst or lots of urine.
  • Kidney problems, including nephritis and kidney failure. Signs of kidney problems may include: decrease in the amount of urine; blood in your urine; swelling in your ankles; and loss of appetite.
  • Skin Problems. Signs of these problems may include: rash; itching; skin blistering; and ulcers in the mouth or other mucous membranes.
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Signs and symptoms of encephalitis may include: headache; fever; tiredness or weakness; confusion; memory problems; sleepiness; seeing or hearing things that are not really there (hallucinations); seizures; and stiff neck.
  • Problems in other organs. Signs of these problems may include: changes in eyesight; severe or persistent muscle or joint pains; severe muscle weakness; and chest pain.

Additional serious side effects observed during a separate study of YERVOY alone include:

  • Nerve problems that can lead to paralysis. Symptoms of nerve problems may include: unusual weakness of legs, arms, or face; and numbness or tingling in hands or feet.
  • Eye problems. Symptoms may include: blurry vision, double vision, or other vision problems; and eye pain or redness.

Getting medical treatment right away may keep these problems from becoming more serious.

Your healthcare provider will check you for these problems during treatment. Your healthcare provider may treat you with corticosteroid or hormone replacement medicines. Your healthcare provider may also need to delay or completely stop treatment, if you have severe side effects.

OPDIVO can cause serious side effects, including:

  • Severe infusion reactions. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you get these symptoms during an infusion of OPDIVO: chills or shaking; itching or rash; flushing; difficulty breathing; dizziness; fever; and feeling like passing out.

Pregnancy and Nursing:

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. OPDIVO and YERVOY can harm your unborn baby. Females who are able to become pregnant should use an effective method of birth control during and for at least 5 months after the last dose of OPDIVO. Talk to your healthcare provider about birth control methods that you can use during this time. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you become pregnant or think you are pregnant during treatment. You or your healthcare provider should contact Bristol-Myers Squibb at 1-800-721-5072 as soon as you become aware of the pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy Safety Surveillance Study: Females who become pregnant during treatment with YERVOY are encouraged to enroll in a Pregnancy Safety Surveillance Study. The purpose of this study is to collect information about the health of you and your baby. You or your healthcare provider can enroll in the Pregnancy Safety Surveillance Study by calling 1-844-593-7869.
  • Before receiving treatment, tell your healthcare provider if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is not known if either treatment passes into your breast milk. Do not breastfeed during treatment and for 3 months after the last dose of YERVOY.

Tell your healthcare provider about:

  • Your health problems or concerns if you: have immune system problems such as autoimmune disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, lupus, or sarcoidosis; have had an organ transplant; have lung or breathing problems; have liver problems; or have any other medical conditions.
  • All the medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

The most common side effects of OPDIVO, when used in combination with YERVOY, include: feeling tired; rash; diarrhea; nausea; fever; pain in muscle, bones, and joints; itching; abdominal pain; vomiting; cough; decreased appetite; and shortness of breath.

These are not all the possible side effects. For more information, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Please see U.S. Full Prescribing Information and Medication Guide for OPDIVO  (PDF) and YERVOY (PDF), including Boxed WARNING regarding immune-mediated side effects for YERVOY.

What to Know About RCC

Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for about 90 percent of kidney cancer cases. Though no clear cause is known, risk factors can include age, smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Many people with RCC don’t experience symptoms, but those who do may notice pain on one side, unexplained weight loss, blood in their urine and anemia.

If found in its earliest stages, RCC has a high survival rate. However, when diagnosed at an advanced stage, only around eight percent of patients live beyond five years – and the prognosis is even worse in patients with certain risk factors.
 

Opdivo® and Yervoy® are trademarks of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. © 2018 Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. All Rights Reserved. 7356US1801502-01-01 8/18