From OHC

May 15, 2024

A cancer diagnosis for older patients often raises unique challenges due to the potential side effects and tolerance for certain treatments such as chemotherapy. With many types of cancer, however, chemotherapy may be the only treatment option, until now.  OHC’s cancer research and clinical trials program offers a beacon of hope by exploring an innovative therapy for elderly lymphoma patients, potentially maintaining their quality of life while fighting the disease.

OHC patient Vanetta Kelly, a vibrant full-time employed 82-year-old woman, was diagnosed with large-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in June of 2023 after experiencing a growth that progressively increased in size on the left side of her nose. Vanetta sought the help of her primary care physician, who referred her to Mercy Health otolaryngologist, Lee A. Zimmer, MD.  After diagnosing Vanetta, Dr. Zimmer referred her to OHC hematologist, medical oncologist, and blood cancer specialist, James H. Essell, MD.

“After consulting with Vanetta, it was clear her quality of life was as important to her as beating the cancer,” shared Dr. Essell. Facing the prospect of debilitating chemotherapy through the standard treatment, the cellular therapy experts at OHC instead offered Vanetta solace in an exclusive clinical trial that provided her with a first-line therapy without chemo.

As principal investigator on the study, Dr. Essell shared, “Vanetta’s diagnosis of large cell NHL is typically treated by a combination of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and steroids, more commonly called R-CHOPHowever, this treatment can be very toxic and for an elderly patient, it could very likely have poor tolerance and cause a significant impact on their quality of life. Therefore, dose reductions often occur, and the result is, unfortunately, less effective treatment and an increased risk of relapse.  Instead, this novel clinical trial allows Vanetta to be given a first-line therapy, without ever receiving chemotherapy.  For elderly patients, this study could provide a significantly better quality of life while achieving a positive outcome, something they could never have imagined when they were first diagnosed.  For Vanetta, this study allowed her to continue working, which was extremely important to her.” 

This groundbreaking trial utilizes BiTE therapy (bispecific T-cell engager), a form of cellular therapy that acts as a bridge between the patient’s own T-cells and the cancer cells, allowing the T-cells to fight the cancer more effectively.  There are several BiTE therapy clinical trials being evaluated at OHC for their efficacy, such as the specific drug Vanetta has been receiving, mosunetuzumab.

OHC is the only adult cancer practice in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana where this study is currently available to elderly patients with lymphoma.  This clinical trial will help determine whether BiTE is an effective first-line treatment option for an older population who may not tolerate chemotherapy.

Thanks to this innovative therapy, Vanetta not only achieved complete remission, but also remarkably maintained her active lifestyle, continuing her full-time job and cherishing time with her family, including 10 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Vanetta states, “My life is full, and I don’t have time to let something like cancer stop me.  I may have cancer, but it doesn’t have me.”

“Vanetta’s story demonstrates the importance of clinical trials to help us find more effective ways to treat patients and significantly improve the quality of life for elderly cancer patients,” highlights Dr. Essell. “This therapy offers a promising alternative to traditional treatments, potentially minimizing the burden on their well-being while still providing the hope of a future without cancer.”

To learn more about OHC’s cancer research and clinical trials program, schedule an appointment, or request a second opinion, call OHC at 1-888-649-4800 or visit

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