Jamie Calver was floating on cloud nine. The 55-year-old husband, father and vice president of a haircare company was heading to the airport with his wife of four years for a belated honeymoon trip to Italy when suddenly, he felt excruciating pain down the left side of his body. The pain eventually subsided but lingered as the couple continued through their 10-day vacation.
Upon his return, Jamie met with his St. Jude Medical Center primary care physician who performed tests and an MRI before scheduling him for additional consultation with a gastroenterologist. However, before reaching that appointment, the Aliso Viejo resident found himself again experiencing extreme body pains while driving home from work. He was immediately scheduled for a CT scan and follow-up meeting with oncologist Giribala Patel, MD, to review the results.
The CT scan revealed that Jamie had two large tumors on his adrenal glands, one of which was pressing on his aorta. They discussed surgery to remove the tumors, and Jamie went on with his everyday life, hoping that the procedure would resolve his health issues.
A week later, Jamie received a call that changed his life.
“Dr. Patel revealed that I had stage IV lung cancer and that I needed to come in to see her as soon as possible,” recalls Jamie. “I was in shock. I immediately assumed I was terminal. That was the longest night of my life for me and my family.”
For anyone, a diagnosis of cancer is terrifying. But for Jamie, his fears were further escalated by the fact that both his parents had died from lung cancer. Jamie had been smoking since he was 10 years old, having grown up around it in American Samoa. However, he quit in 2008 and had not touched a cigarette since.
On Jamie’s CT scan, Dr. Patel had caught spots, or nodules, indicating cancer on his lung, lymph node and adrenal glands. In going over treatment options, Dr. Patel suggested a clinical trial that St. Jude was conducting in partnership with UCLA. The trial was showing promising results for different types of cancers, and it was closing in two weeks.
Jamie underwent his first round of infusion with the clinical trial therapy. The weeks leading up to his results were filled with fear and anxiety. A month and a half later, Jamie received a call — but this call was life changing for another reason. The tumors had shrunk.
“I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be on this clinical trial. Dr. Patel told me that had I gone on chemo instead, it was likely that I would have only lived another six to nine months,” Jamie said. “Now, having just undergone my 15th treatment, I feel like I’m living 80 percent of perfect. I feel like I could continue that way for the rest of my life.”
St. Jude’s Crosson Cancer Institute, through partnerships with some of the nation’s top research consortiums, is a leading site for clinical trials. Clinical trials currently underway at St. Jude include promising treatments for nearly every type of cancer. By providing the community access to new therapies, years before they become publically available, St. Jude is helping increase survivability from even the most advanced and aggressive cancers, like Jamie’s.
Compared to where he was last spring, Jamie says his health has improved “to the point where people forget that I have cancer.” While the journey has not always been easy, his strong support network keeps him motivated.
“I sometimes throw myself a pity party, crying and thinking ‘this is my life now.’ Luckily, I have people to get me get through it, like my wife, my family and my friends,” Jamie said. “I can’t thank the people enough at St. Jude. Everyone there has a way of making you feel better, and not making you feel bad because you feel bad about yourself.”
To express his gratitude and give back to the program that saved his life, Jamie raised support for and participated as a model in St. Jude’s A Walk Among the Stars Fashion Show and Luncheon this past October. The annual event, featuring cancer patients and survivors as models, raises funds for patient care and clinical advancements at the Crosson Cancer Institute.
“I am living proof that these programs work and they need to be supported,” he said. “I never thought this disease would go away. I thought I was terminal, and I was just living day-to-day. Now, I’m looking forward to planning for the future. I’m so blessed to have the quality of life I have now, and I am forever grateful.”