Morgan Throckmorton has been through a lot in the last two years. Simply getting diagnosed with colon cancer at age 22 wasn’t easy. “Cancer wasn’t on the radar with doctors at my age,” she said, as she described the other diagnoses–including the stress of starting grad school–for her symptoms of abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss that were ruled out before a colonoscopy and follow up CT scan indicated cancer.
After an initial surgery in Raleigh that indicated cancer in Morgan’s lymph nodes her mom, a breast cancer survivor, consulted her oncologist–who told her that Morgan should go to UNC.
Morgan started treatment and a lot of things went wrong. A post-surgical infection and abcess put her in the hospital for about a month with additional surgeries. She weighed 89 pounds when she could finally be released for physical therapy.
Then on to treating her cancer, which is how she ended up in a new clinical trial led by UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center for a drug called regorafanib, which may offer a new option for colorectal cancer patients whose cancer has not responded to first line therapies. Many of these patients have cancers that test positive for mutant K-RAS or BRAF genes, and see their cancers continue to progress on the current first line therapies.
Morgan is one of those. Her diagnosis at such a young age led her doctors to suggest genetic testing. She was tested and UNC genetic counselor Cecile Skyrznia, MS, both put together a detailed family history and explained that Morgan has the K-RAS gene mutation.
While monoclonal antibodies targeted toward epithelial growth factor receptors (EGFR) are effective for many colorectal cancer patients, those like Morgan whose cancers test positive for K-RAS are not candidates for these treatments, which have been shown to be ineffective in the presence of this mutation.
Morgan says she has had her low points during the two year process, but has built herself back up. “We go through things, there are ups and downs.” She calls herself a different person now. “It’s important to realize that this can happen to anyone.”
Her decision to participate in the clinical trial was easy. “I think everything happens for a reason. God doesn’t put more on you than you can deal with.” So giving back by enrolling in a clinical trial that might help her, but more importantly might help someone else in the future is something Morgan thinks is important.
Morgan has thought a lot about cancer, and her situation, and is wise beyond her years. She has started a blog where she reflects on some of these thoughts and talking to her reveals more depth, as she reflects on the difference between her cancer experience as a young person and her mom’s breast cancer survival and as she talks about the difference between academic writing and the enjoyment she gets from writing her blog. She is exploring more volunteer opportunities and it’s clear she has a lot to offer.
Morgan died of her illness in October 2012.