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College of Nursing

Frank Brown: Living with late-stage cancer

Sumter native Frank Brown has twice faced cancer diagnoses, and he dreams of a day when the disease will be cured.

To do his part to advance cancer care, Brown recently took part in an eight-week research study conducted by the University of South Carolina College of Nursing.

“Anything I can do to help somebody else, I’m glad to do it,” says Brown, who three years ago was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer after a bout with prostate cancer more than a decade ago.

“Maybe (my input) will (help), maybe it won’t, but if somebody else doesn’t have to go through what so many of us are going through, it’s worth the time,” he said.

Brown, a retired U.S. Air Force and South Carolina Forestry Commission pilot, learned about the chance to participate from his medical team at South Carolina Oncology Associates.

For the pilot study, led by Assistant Professor Karen Wickersham, Ph.D., RN, Brown was interviewed by researchers twice in his home to learn about the impact of his targeted therapy pills on his daily life. Targeted therapies are medications that act on or in specific sites of cancer cells to stop or slow tumor growth. For instance, he answered questions about whether he could run errands, his mood, his fatigue levels, his sleep quality and his pain. He also answered questions that measured his mental sharpness.

Wickersham’s research is important because many older patients with late-stage cancer stop taking their oral targeted therapy or do not take it as prescribed because they cannot tolerate the side effects.

In Brown’s case, his first dose of cabozantinib made his feet swell and caused such large water blisters that began using a wheelchair. After a few adjustments, he now takes a smaller dose, and those side effects have eased. His doctors also prescribed a pain patch and an antidepressant. However, Brown says food doesn’t taste quite right and he tires more easily than he did before he started chemo.

Still, he says, “I’ve had it good. I’m able to go and do. I know it’s going to get worse, but I can deal with that.”

In addition to the 30-minute interviews, the researchers also measured medication adherence by asking Brown and the other participants to use a special smart cap for their targeted therapy pills that recorded the time and date when the medication bottles were opened.

Wickersham’s pilot was designed to test the study’s methods with a small group, with the ultimate goal of expanding the research to a larger patient pool to identify interventions that will enable patients to stay on treatment longer.

Brown says participating in the study was a no-brainer, and he’s open to being part of future studies if he’s mentally and physically able.

“Why would anybody not want to solve some problems for somebody else?”


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