By April Wilkerson
OKLAHOMA CITY --On a wall in her home, Deborrah Winters hung a sign that perfectly captures her journey with cancer: This girl won’t stop.
Winters indeed has not stopped. A patient for nearly three years at Stephenson Cancer Center at OU Medicine, Winters has experienced numerous highs and lows. Her original tumor was successfully treated, only to return in a different part of her body. Through it all, she remains determined to fight cancer alongside the healthcare providers that she considers her teammates in the effort.
“I wouldn’t be here without the Stephenson Cancer Center,” said Winters, a Midwest City resident. “They fight WITH me. You don’t take this journey on your own. They go the extra mile – they don’t just treat what’s going on in your body, but they treat your body, mind and spirit. Nobody has given up on me.”
Winters’ battle against cancer began in October 2017, when she was experiencing abnormal bleeding. She was quickly referred to Stephenson Cancer Center, where she was diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer and learned that a tumor the size of a baby’s head had begun bleeding. She started treatment immediately but soon faced another hurdle -- a stroke. After being hospitalized, she recovered.
However, her initial treatment for cancer wasn’t working, so she was switched to another treatment, which was successful beyond anyone’s expectations.
“It was just supposed to shrink my tumor enough to give me a longer life and better quality of life. But my tumor shrank and shrank until it floated away to nothingness,” she said. “It was awesome.”
But the good news didn’t last. During a regular CT scan last summer, doctors found that the cancer had returned, but in a different area – her intestinal tract. That’s when she was enrolled in a phase 1 clinical trial and began taking a targeted therapy matched to her tumor profile, said Kathleen Moore, M.D., director of the Oklahoma TSET Phase 1 Program and Associate Director for Clinical Research at Stephenson Cancer Center. Winters’ cancer has had a complete response to the therapy and she remains on the trial, Moore said.
Receiving treatment on a clinical trial has not only controlled her cancer, but it has given Winters an opportunity to play a role in the advancement of cancer care. That’s something she takes seriously.
“I’ve told the clinical trial team that I want them to do all the tests they need to do to learn about my cancer and the treatment I’m receiving,” Winters said. “I want them to understand what’s working with me so that it can work on other people with cancer.”
Winters still faces a future in which her cancer could recur, perhaps in another part of her body. She said she views it not as a fight that she finishes, but one that she continues. And as the sign on her wall reminds her, “This girl won’t stop.”
“So many people have been on this journey with me – my family, my church family, people I don’t even know who are praying for me. And, of course, Stephenson Cancer Center,” she said. “They have talked me through everything – every test they’ve done and every drug I’ve taken. They go the extra mile to make sure I understand everything that is going on. They go above and beyond to make sure they are taking good care of me.”