Campbell County cancer patient finds success with investigative drug

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Tim Saunders


The Norman household is filled with four energetic children and an endless amount of hope.

The enthusiasm has helped Dawn Norman survive, as her eight-year-old son Nathan has fought a long and aggressive battle with pediatric cancer.

“We didn’t know last year whether Nathan would still be here with us,” said Norman, whose son has battled cancer since the age of two.

In 2014 things looked bleak for the Normans.  Nathan had exhausted numerous forms of treatment that were doing almost nothing to shrink the tumors in his brain and spine.

Even worse, the drugs were reducing his quality of life.

“One of the medicines caused a lot of (pain) in his legs,” said Norman.  “He was having to use a wheelchair all the time.”

From nausea to vomiting and dizzy spells, there was a painful side effect to almost every drug Norman took.

Norman’s oncologist, Dr. Sri Gururangan, was running out of treatment options.

“Each time we treated him with a specific drug, it seemed to work for a couple of months and then the next scan shows that the tumor has grown again or he is more symptomatic,” said Gururangan, a pediatric oncologist at Duke Children’s Health Center in Durham, North Carolina.

The Normans were highly discouraged, but not ready to give up.

“Neither myself, nor my husband felt like this was the end,” said Dawn Norman.  “We just knew that God had to do something.  That he was going to show up and do something.”

But the prognosis remained grim.  Proven therapies were simply not working.

“I’ve treated him with so many chemotherapy drugs and biologic therapies, but we have not had success,” said Gururangan.

The outlook changed recently, thanks to an investigative drug.  Duke Children’s Health Center is one of ten institutions in the United States taking part in a pediatric cancer trial, with a medication called “AZD 6244.”

The treatment is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so when Norman was accepted into the study last spring his parents were nervous.

“We were concerned because there is not enough data out there to back how he would or wouldn’t feel, or what was going to happen,” Norman said.

What happened was something completely unexpected.  After taking the drug for 10 months, Norman’s tumors appear to be shrinking.

“We’ve been able to stabilize his tumor, in both the brain as well as in the spinal cord,” said Gururangan.

Norman’s last MRI in January showed something remarkable.  The tumor in his spine was almost invisible.

“It gives me a lot of hope that we have shut off the major portions of the tumor, and what we are left with is probably a dormant disease,” Gururangan said.

“Oh my heavens! We were just so ecstatic,” explained Norman, after hearing about the results of her son’s recent MRI.

When asked how he reacted to the news, Nathan Norman said he was “really, really excited.”

“I jumped up and down,” Norman said with a smile.

Not only does the drug appear to be killing his cancer, it’s also not making him sick.

“He really doesn’t have side effects from it,” said Dawn Norman.  “Occasionally he’ll have an upset stomach, but we don’t know if that is from the medicine or from the brain tumor.”