Shon Finds New Hope with CAR T Cell Therapy

Stories@Gilead - September 15, 2020

One morning in 2017, as he was shaving for work, Shon discovered a lump on his neck. A cancer diagnosis didn’t even cross his mind when he went to visit his primary care doctor.

“I almost canceled the appointment,” says Shon. “I wasn’t even going to go, because I didn’t feel bad.”

Shon’s doctor ordered a biopsy. The results showed Shon had diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). The disease is the most common – and a particularly aggressive – type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The week following his diagnosis, Shon started chemotherapy. The first line of chemotherapy did not produce the desired results, but Shon and his wife, Lisa, felt optimistic that the second line of chemo would be effective. The results were disappointing: a PET scan showed the cancer persisted. Shon’s oncologist arranged a consult with an oncologist at an academic cancer center to discuss treatment options.

“Briefly it was devastating,” says Shon. “But then you go to the next oncologist and you have choices. You have options. You've got hope.” 

Lisa remembers sitting with him through each appointment and the urgency they had to find an effective treatment.

“It doesn’t do any good to be angry or upset. I just will not give it that power,” says Lisa. “And as long as we have a tool in our toolbox to help, you know, continue on, fight the fight, do what we need to do.”

For Shon and Lisa, that tool was chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, one of the options available to treat Shon’s cancer. His care team determined that given his diagnosis and treatment history, CAR T cell therapy would be the best option for him. CAR T cell therapy is a type of treatment that involves engineering a person’s own white blood cells to fight cancer, and it has been shown to be effective for some people with certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Shon’s cells were extracted at a specialized treatment center and sent to a manufacturing facility. There, Shon’s T cells were isolated and engineered with the CAR gene to recognize and attack his cancer cells.

The re-programmed CAR T cells were shipped back to the treatment center, where they were reinfused into Shon’s body. After a stay at the hospital to monitor for the known side effects of CAR T therapy, he returned home, and each follow-up PET scan revealed that his tumor was beginning to disappear.

More than two years later, Shon is back to work, spending more time with his family and enjoying the outdoors. He says he has immense gratitude for the care team that helped him and remains optimistic about the future.  

“I still have hope,” says Shon. “I hope it never comes back. I hope I never have to see the expression on my wife's face while I go through that again – that’s my hope.”