Nurses and a doctor surround Emily, a cancer patient who underwent CAR t-cell therapy

Journey to CAR T-Cell Therapy: A Patient’s Perspective

May 22 2019

A hospice nurse who works closely with end-of-life patient care personally experienced her own close call with life

Emily MacFarlane is no stranger to end-of-life patient care as a hospice nurse at St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Covington, KY.  Her passion for her work is evident when she reflects on her career. She often thinks of her co-workers as her “second family”.  She is also very fortunate to have a close circle of friends and family. This includes two life-long friends who are nurses and are her support system during her own battle with life-threatening cancer.  Emily bravely faced the many challenges of battling cancer while she continued working and raising her three sons with her husband Jim.  As a proud mother and grandmother, it was important for her to beat cancer and “live so she could be part of her babies’ lives—children and grandchildren”. Emily’s journey to undergo CAR T-cell therapy was uncertain at first but led to her getting back to her life.

Emily was diagnosed in 2004 with Follicular Lymphoma. Her nursing friend recommended she follow up with the ENT physician she worked with to evaluate bumps in her neck.  After the biopsy, she was referred to a hematologist who recommended chemotherapy.  A second opinion at a cancer institute in Nebraska confirmed chemotherapy was the correct course of action. She remained in remission for thirty-six months when she developed bumps on her leg.  She was diagnosed with B-cell Lymphoma. Emily was referred, again, to a hematologist who recommended she get a bone marrow transplant.  She went back to Nebraska for a second opinion and they agreed this was the correct course of therapy. The plan was for her to complete therapy in Nebraska.  Emily was not looking forward to spending so much time away from her family including her parents so when her insurance company told her she only lived thirty miles from one of the best bone marrow transplant centers in the area she gladly came to The Jewish Hospital Blood Cancer Center for evaluation with Dr. Randy Broun.  Dr. Broun is a board-certified hematologist oncologist at Oncology Hematology Care, Inc.

After fighting to beat cancer again, Emily was introduced to CAR T-cell therapy

Emily had her bone marrow transplant in January of 2009; only five months before her youngest son’s wedding.  Her thoughts were focused on being there for her son to help plan the wedding and being there for her future grandchildren so she knew she had to beat cancer again. She remained in remission from 2009 until October 2018 when her lymphoma returned.  She was seen by Dr. Miguel Islas-Ohlmayer at Oncology Hematology Care, Inc who recommended CAR T-cell therapy.

With Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy, also known as CAR T, doctors remove a patient’s immune system cells, modify them in a lab so they will recognize and kill cancer, and then infuse them back into the patient. The modified cells stay in the body, where they continue to multiply and act as surveillance, looking for new cancer cells that may pop up over time that they destroy before recurrence.

Emily stated it was scary at first to be one of the first patients at The Jewish Hospital Blood Cancer Center to receive the cutting-edge therapy. But her fear turned to excitement as she realized she would be a “pioneer patient”.   She was grateful for Diane Shapiro, her transplant coordinator who helped alleviate her anxiety by explaining every step in the process so she was aware of what to expect during the therapy. “We were so impressed with the level of CAR T-cell training all the staff in every department involved with us at The Jewish Hospital had!”

Emily was excited to get back to her life after completing therapy and beating cancer

Now that her CAR T therapy is complete she is planning to return to work in May 2019 and continue her passion for caring for others and take vacations to Florida and Cape Cod again with her family.  She is happiest though when spending time with her children and grandchildren.  Emily would share with other patients who are taking this journey in life to consider getting their information and advice from experts about cancer and transplant. Don’t rely on the internet which can be very scary.  She also recommends connecting with other patients who have walked the same path. This will encourage and guide you along your journey through bone marrow transplant.


Visit our website to learn more about other types of oncology services and cancer treatments at Mercy Health.

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Bob Sylvia

An absolutely wonderful story about an absolutely wonderful lady. See you soon at the Portuguese Festival.
May 23rd, 2019 | 2:54pm

Ruth Tennyson

So proud of my sister! She always kept a positive attitude and is an inspiration to me.
May 23rd, 2019 | 7:28pm

Tracey Rose

Thank you so much for your courage and fortitude to be a pioneer with this program Emily that can only help oncologists and medical teams in the research and learning throughout the process and just as important in thinking about other newly diagnosed people . And, for your family. Your pride and joy I can see. Prayers forever for you! Leo and Tracey Rose
May 27th, 2019 | 8:20am

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