If you or a loved one has cancer, there is new hope.
A groundbreaking clinical trial is now looking for local patients to get the latest technology to fight tumors, and all treatment is free.
One man with terminal cancer is hoping this is the answer.
New Orleans is not the place James Wayne Leonard thought he'd live. In fact, it was a completely different culture from his home in Indiana, a place he never planned to leave but then he was offered the job of CEO of Entergy in the late 1990s.
"I wasn't sure that the cultural change that was necessary was possible," said Leonard.
He took the financially troubled company through a hostile takeover and replaced the expensive paintings in his CEO office suite with pictures of Entergy customers. It was a way to make a statement about who was most important to him. Meanwhile he fell in love with the Crescent City.
"And it turned out, as I got to know people, it was amazing how the New Orleans welcoming type culture is so inherent just in the city, was so contusive to what I wanted to get done in terms of just customer service and focus on that instead of trying to make money," he remembers.
Wayne never left, raising three daughters in New Orleans but in his 50s, there was a speck on his lungs so tiny doctors could not find it in surgery. Still, part of his lung was removed. The speck turned out to be nothing but years later in his 60s, Wayne, who never smoked and was never around smokers or asbestoses, developed stage 4, inoperable, incurable, lung cancer. Doctors say it's rare, but the scar on the lungs from the surgery, may have been the cause. Wayne began years of chemotherapy.
"Of course you're hoping for a reduction in size of tumors, and that's, that's kind of over reaching a little bit, but it was stabilized for about eight months."
Some battles were won, but the war was not. His cancer spread.
"The fear that I started to have was when they came in the room and told you they were out of options," he remembers.
During Wayne's treatments, he began to empathize with the many patients on the other end of that chemotherapy IV drips.
"Cancer was really not on the radar screen so much until you have it, and then it's at the forefront, when you see how difficult, as difficult as it is for you, when you see how difficult it is for others."
So the man who grew up without means and became financially successful, decided to do something.
"When you have the opportunity later in life, where you can give back, you feel a lot of responsibility to do that," Leonard said. "Always done that."
He gave $1 million to the place he chose to be the warrior in the cancer fight with him, The Ochsner Precision Cancer Therapies Program in the Benson Cancer Center.
"The oncologist that I was going to select, was probably the biggest decision I'd ever make," Leonard said about the research he did to find the right personality and knowledge in his doctor.
Now at 67-years-old, just when chemotherapy was no longer working, and Wayne was out of any hopeful options, the Ochsner program was selected as one of places in the U.S. to get the Strata Trial. It offers revolutionary cancer treatment, one where solid cancer tumors are tested for their unique genetic code. Then specific medicines, some not even on the market yet, are matched to fight them.
"By offering patients these new breakthroughs, these new drugs often years before they would hit the market, we're giving people an opportunity here, an opportunity to live longer, to hopefully live a better life with less symptoms," said Dr. Marc Matrana, Director of the Ochsner Precision Cancer Therapies Program, and Leonard's doctor.
"A week ago probably, I was experiencing anxiety symptoms, so I'm probably about as hopeful at the moment," said Leonard.
Wayne will join 100,000 other people with cancer in the clinical trial. He knows there is a correlation between people who have hope in their hearts, and those who live longer. He's hoping that attitude, with this new scientific study, will allow him the time to see his grandchild grow up.
"You can't feel sorry for yourself, you know, whatever when you look at your life, because I've had, I've had so many good breaks. I mean, people that gave me opportunities that I never thought I'd get, ever," said Leonard, who remembers thinking New Orleans was an obstacle but later realized was a blessing because the city is unique and very rare.
For more information on the Ochsner Precision Cancer Therapies Program which includes the Strata, Trial click here or call 1-888-995-7405.
StrataNGSTM is now available to all advanced solid tumor and lymphoma patients at no cost through the Strata Trial, a nationwide observational study providing tumor sequencing for 100,000 patients with advanced cancer. Ochsner is the only hospital in Louisiana and Mississippi offering this type of advanced tumor profiling with no costs to the patients or their insurance companies.