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Tana Davis: Fighting Cancer from the Inside Out with CAR-T Therapy

Tana Davis
Brian Berryman, M.D., and Tana Davis

“You can have apprehension about things in life, but you can’t live on that. So, you have to move forward, be happy, and hope that everything goes well.”

Tana Davis
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Tana Davis’s cancer journey started 11 years ago when she was diagnosed with low-grade follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma on the roof of her mouth. Under the care of  Anton Melnyk, M.D., hematologist and medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Abilene, Tana received chemotherapy and obtained remission.

Eight years later, in 2018, Tana began experiencing discomfort in her shoulder, which she later learned was due to rapid enlargement of the lymph nodes in her neck and underarm. Subsequent X-rays and bloodwork revealed Tana’s cancer had returned. Tana was diagnosed with high-grade diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and began chemotherapy, but her cancer did not respond to the treatment.

“Dr. Melnyk told me the therapy wasn’t working, and it wasn’t clear what other options I had,” Tana said. “I asked if he was giving me a time limit and if there were any other potential treatments. He looked at me and said, ‘just a minute, I need to go make a phone call.’ And then he stepped out of the room and made the phone call that changed my life.”

A New Door Opens

Dr. Melnyk called Brian Berryman, M.D., hematologist, medical oncologist, and blood and marrow transplant specialist at Texas Oncology–Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center Blood and Marrow Transplant. Dr. Berryman consulted with Tana in Dallas and since her standard therapy did not respond, he evaluated Tana for a novel treatment called CAR-T therapy.

A type of immunotherapy, chimeric antigen cell therapy (CAR-T) is a personalized therapy in which a patient’s own immune cells are removed from the body, genetically reprogrammed, then infused back into the patient to identify and attack their cancer as a one-time treatment. The therapy is offered to adult patients like Tana who have been diagnosed with either relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or acute lymphocytic leukemia, and who have failed two or more types of therapy as another treatment option.

“Tana was a perfect candidate for CAR-T therapy as she was highly motivated to travel to Dallas for treatment, accepted the need for closer monitoring, and had a strong support system to lean on throughout the process,” Dr. Berryman said.

When Dr. Berryman explained Tana would need someone to stay with her in Dallas throughout her treatment, Tana’s daughter-in-law and son didn’t hesitate before volunteering. They travelled with Tana to Dallas and, together with Tana’s two daughters, ensured she had the support she needed at every stage of the process.

“I have a wonderful family,” Tana said. “They’re all over Texas, but when I need them they’re here. I also had the most amazing nurses and doctors taking care of me during my treatments. I had very few complications, but they always made sure that I was taken care of, and I certainly do appreciate it.”

Connected and Cancer-Free

Three months after the CAR-T cell infusion, Tana’s cancer was in complete remission.

“Tana’s case is just one example of how CAR-T therapy offers hope for lasting disease remission to people who otherwise had few options,” Dr. Berryman said. “It truly is a miracle.”

Tana has been in remission for around three years. She receives antibody treatments due to low immunity, and telemedicine provides seamless coordination and communication between her medical oncologist in Abilene and her care team in Dallas.

“I truly feel like God ran interference for me and sent me to the most wonderful doctors from Texas Oncology,” Tana said. “I’m so grateful for my experience, and I hope my story gives hope to other people my age. You can have apprehension about things in life, but you can’t live on that. So, you have to move forward, be happy, and hope that everything goes well. And I have every confidence in my doctors that it will.”

The information included in this testimonial is based on one patient’s unique experience and is not intended to represent all patient outcomes or expectations.