One Person Can Change the World: I'm Living Proof!
The Gift of Knowing
The producer saw my face light up when I spoke about the greatest gift of my life: the gift of knowing that I might, indeed, live! He said, "We are all working on this film, mostly as volunteers because we believe in this story, and we have never met any real Herceptin survivors yet. You have no idea what this man went through to save your life. You have to read his story. Harry Connick, Jr. is playing the doctor, Dr. Dennis Slamon. Slamon is a real hero, and he will be here during the filming. You have to come to the set and meet him when we come back to shoot. Here's the script. Read it and I promise I will give you a call!" He gave me the actual script and drove away.
The Couch of Truth
A rush of joyful anxiety came over me as I plopped on my couch and opened the pages of the script, where I stayed for three hours. It read like my own fairy tale, and I was the princess caught in the tower. I found myself rooting for this man to "Never give up! Keep going. Don't quit."
Here was a brilliant researcher, yet, simple man, who dedicated his life to making his invention, his out-of-the-box thinking, his life's work, Herceptin, available to women who needed it so desperately.
As I read on, I couldn't believe that I was in high school when he first pitched the idea for this new way of approaching cancer. I was getting married when it went to Phase I trials. I was having a baby during Phase II and III, and all the while he was battling insurmountable forces to save my life. He put his family second, and toiled basically out of a closet at UCLA Research Center with an English major research assistant. He told her, "If we can get this drug approved, we can fill the Rose Bowl with the number of women it will save every two years."
I couldn't fathom this story. It described the numerous battles he had convincing Genentec executives to risk everything to go along with this concept. Chemo drugs kill cells, thus killing good cells too, and cause tremendous side effects. Herceptin instead binds to the protein in the tumor that causes cells to divide and essentially blocks the protein so that the action stops.
As I read through the pages, I understood that it was truly a miracle that Herceptin came to be, and it was available to me when I was ready for it. I was sitting there reading the beautiful story of one man's fifteen year struggle that ended with me and millions of other women being cured of our type of cancer. After finishing the story, I instantly knew that I was going to live. I didn't have to wait seven years to wait for some scientific truth. I knew! More importantly, I also knew for sure that one man could change the world, and I knew I was the lucky recipient of his steadfastness and his genius.
The Set of the Lifetime Television Movie: Living Proof
So seven months came and went, and one day I got an unexpected phone call from Bob the producer. He said, "Angelle, I know I said I was going to give you a call to meet Dr. Slamon and tomorrow is his last day here. Can you come to the stadium in the morning so you can meet him?"
Of course I could. I was so excited to finally hug him and thank him for saving my life. He was not just the man who gave my kids their mother longer, but he was also a symbol for all that is good in this world. He materialized the unattainable truth from my childhood, that each of our lives are important, and we can make a difference in the world.
I rushed to the set that morning, but when I got there, he was gone. They said he had to catch an earlier flight because something had come up. Bob apologized to me profusely, but also informed me that if willing, I was going to be in the final scene of the movie. He said, "Harry Connick, Jr. is going to be jogging through the stadium because Dr. Slamon was a runner. It's a fantasy scene, he said. It's the end of the movie. As Harry runs through the Rose Bowl, the stadium is going to start to fill with women who are going to be popping up, because he saved their lives. We want you to be the first women to pop up."