In September 1997, Carolyn Curtis’ life was turned upside down. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors were giving her a fifty-fifty chance to live.
“I was very young and just shell-shocked,” Carolyn said. “It was like a kick in the gut for my family.”
Carolyn Curtis’ life was saved by treatment including her own adult stem cells. Many years later, she firmly believes that embryonic stem cells are the wrong choice for people seeking cures to breast cancer and other diseases and conditions.
Adult stem cells were treating Carolyn and other patients like her in 1997. Embryonic stem cells still have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human clinical trials. The first human embryonic stem cell lines were produced in November 1998. Carolyn points out that though embryonic stem cell research was beginning to be seriously debated and considered soon after her treatment, it has yet to treat anyone, while adult stem cell treatments are ongoing.
“There has been a big push for embryonic stem cell research,” she said. “But it still hasn’t amounted to anything.”
In addition, Carolyn said she thinks it is wrong to take human lives for medical research, even if it were to result in treatments for others. The only way to obtain human embryonic stem cells is to kill an embryo and extract the cells.
“With four children of my own, it would have been like saying one of them would not have been born,” she said.
Carolyn’s treatment was a long and hard process. Her breast cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and required aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. After six months of chemotherapy, she opted for a treatment using her own stem cells. The month long treatment involved collecting stem cells from her blood through a process called apheresis, which is similar to dialysis. She then had high-dosage chemotherapy, which destroys cancer cells but also kills bone marrow cells and seriously drains the immune system. Doctors then reintroduced her stem cells, which formed new bone marrow and replenished her blood and immune systems. Carolyn said the process was very difficult, especially the high-dose chemotherapy treatments.
“You don’t remember a lot of it, that’s good,” she said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat. It’s not pleasant, but I would do it again.”
According to Carolyn, a family member once asked why she would not have used a treatment produced from embryonic stem cells (if it had ever existed), if it meant an easy and complete cure to her cancer. She said it still wouldn’t be worth taking another human life to treat her.
“Even if they promised a complete cure, it would never have been something I considered,” she said. “That would be totally against everything I believe in.”
Carolyn credits her parents and her husband, Cliff, for their wonderful help in taking care of her during her treatment. Almost eleven years later and in remission, Carolyn is doing very well with her husband and four children in Marshall, MI.
“God had a lot of work for me to do,” she said.