NEW ORLEANS - There was a major announcement in the medical community to help people with an aggressive kind of skin cancer.
New Orleans was named one of the few sites to enroll people in a study of a new type of treatment. It's a clinical trial that can help people with many types of cancer not have to leave town for treatment.
For 50 years Harry Nunez has coached students on the Northshore, but in February, a routine exam changed everything.
"I had a little bump on the back of my leg, and right before, as we were picking up, the doctor was picking up everything, I said, 'You know, maybe we better ought to look at this,'" remembers Nunez, 73, of Covington.
It was an aggressive skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma. They had to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for treatment.
"We had to go out of state because there was nobody that could actually say, 'I just work with Merkel cell.' It was very hard to leave the family for six weeks," said Harry's wife Sharon Nunez.
After Harry was treated, he found out it was the same cancer that took the life of restaurant entrepreneur Al Copeland Sr.
"We had no where to go or no where to turn. Matter of fact, we had to go to Germany, Munich, Germany in order to get treatment," said Al Copeland Jr. about his father.
Since then, in 2008, the Copeland family has worked to fulfill their father's wish to cure Merkel cell. And after raising money to buy state of the art equipment for the Louisiana Cancer Research Center, today LSU Health Sciences Center doctors announced that its Stanley Scott Cancer Center is one of only 11 sites doing a groundbreaking clinical trial for Merkel cell, using a treatment that enables the patient's own immune system to attack the cancer.
"This is our first initiative with immunotherapy clearly, but it opens the door for the development of other treatments, other immunotherapy treatments, for other types of tumors," explained Dr. Augusto Ochoa, Director of the LSU Health New Orleans Scott Cancer Center.
"As we say at the Al Copeland Foundation, we can change the course of cancer," said Copeland.
"I think it's great because if it (my cancer) does reoccur, then I'll be here and get my treatment," said Nunez.
There are more than 50 clinical trials going on at the LSU Scott Cancer Center for many types of cancer, and several in immunotherapy. Patients can go to clinics in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and throughout the state. Call 504-407-7395 to see if you qualify for any of the studies.