Almost exactly a year after Lynsie Conradi's young husband Rodney died of cancer, her own leukemia came back. But now, a few months later, the 23-year-old Bellingham native is in complete remission thanks to a new T-cell treatment she received at Seattle Children's hospital.
Conradi, who married Rodney Conradi of Yakima in a subdued ceremony in February 2012, was Children's first recipient of cellular immunotherapy, and the first leukemia patient in the state to undergo the new treatment.
The therapy works by taking some of the patient's blood and genetically modifying the T-cells, which fight infection, to reprogram them so they are able to recognize the foreign cancer cells and attack them accordingly.
The treatment has vastly fewer side effects than normal chemotherapy, which destroys healthy cells along with cancer. It's still in the early stages of a clinical trial at Children's and three other institutions nationwide.
At Children's, where the trial began this past December, fewer than 30 participants will be enrolled. So far, the therapy is used only on patients whose leukemia has relapsed, which usually means traditional chemotherapy won't work.
In Conradi's case, her leukemia had become chemotherapy-resistant, but the new T-cells worked so quickly that barely a week after she began the therapy, her doctors declared her cancer-free.
"She's really excited to be in remission and she's glad the T-cell study worked," her mother, Donna Rainford, said Thursday, July 11, in a telephone interview. "And she's excited to see how it helps the kids that are coming behind her in the future. That's where the excitement lays, now that shes in remission."
Conradi was not feeling well Thursday, and still had several chemo sores in her mouth from her last round before the T-cell treatment, so she wasn't able to talk comfortably.
Rodney and Lynsie Conradi were married in the basement of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital last year on Feb. 16, two days after he proposed on Valentine's Day. The pair had met at the Ronald McDonald House while both were undergoing cancer treatment at Children's in 2010. Rodney died of Ewing's sarcoma, a type of cancer that causes painful bone tumors, just a few weeks after their wedding.
In the year that followed, Lynsie Conradi was cancer-free and living at home in Bellingham, only visiting Children's once a month for checkups. But then on March 18 this year, doctors told her she had relapsed again. The leukemia was back, and she moved back into Children's a week later. She's been there ever since.
"The anniversary of Rodney's death was March 10, and she relapsed March 18, so that was kind of a tough month," Rainford said. "I'm sure that Lynsie wishes Rodney was here to kind of help her through all this, and be her tower of strength. I know she misses him."
Though her cancer is gone, Conradi still has a long road ahead. Her mother said she'll be staying at Ronald McDonald House for another six to eight months at least, and early next month she'll undergo a bone marrow transplant, which means she'll spend several of those months in isolation to make sure her body doesn't reject the transplant.
But after that, her mom says, "We can go home."