Robert Svensson is a handsome 80-year-old with a young man’s body and zest for life. In 1989, after a radical prostatectomy, and 30 radiation treatments, Svensson was moving along just fine with his PSAs, until 10 years ago when his numbers starting climbing.
Svensson, a 30-year Lahey patient, began chemotherapy on the recommendation of his doctors. Then a bone scan showed metastases; he was placed on a drug to alleviate pain. His PSA continued rising. Doctors ordered more chemo, but he could no longer tolerate the treatments. “I was not sad I stopped chemo,” said Svensson. “I didn’t like it, and it didn’t like me.” Soon his PSA had risen more.
When Svensson heard the FDA had approved an immunotherapy for his type of advanced cancer and that his doctors thought he was a candidate for it, he was thrilled. He was not deterred by the four-hour leukapheresis (See Moving Forward, June 8), the extraction of his white blood cells, three times over a six-week period. The cells would be sent to a drug-making site where they would be mixed with a prostate antigen and growth factor. Then precisely timed, each batch, individually produced just for him, would be injected back into him.
On the eve of his first injection, July 2, Svensson was optimistic and a bit hesitant. He would be the first patient in New England to receive the drug called Provenge. At first, he thought about health care reform, the cost of the drug, its limited extension of survival and why he, as an octogenarian, should receive it.
“I’m not young and I didn’t want to be wasteful,” he said before reconsidering. “I love life and want a good quality of life. I’m a young 80- year-old man.”
Eight years ago, Svensson lost his wife of 49 years. A former chief financial officer for an engineering company, he lives alone in Bedford and does his own housework, including yard work and snow removal by equipment. A father of three children, all in their 50s, Svensson was looking forward to Fourth of July festivities at his summer home in Barnstead, NH. Fishing was on the agenda with one of his sons, and so were cookouts.
“I’m a content guy and my timing was perfect to get this drug. Being the first is an honor, a privilege and my good fortune. And I’m also fortunate to be a Lahey patient and having access to Provenge.”
Learn more about the patient-centered, high-quality approach to cancer care provided to patients diagnosed and treated at Lahey Clinic's Sophia Gordon Cancer Center.