Rosemarie Hudson, Stage IV Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma

Comprehensive Cancer Centers is committed to offering groundbreaking research to its patients. In this Research Spotlight, learn how Rosemarie was the first patient in the world on a groundbreaking clinical trial for her cancer.

Rosemarie “Romie” Hudson is a kind-hearted woman, obtaining licensure to become a certified caregiver at age 50. Specializing in patients with late-stage Alzheimer’s, Romie has worked with patients across the country for more than 20 years, affectionately known as “Mama Romie.”

The compassionate caregiver was also the first patient in the world on a groundbreaking clinical trial for cancer treatment. It’s taking place right here in Southern Nevada at Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

Romie was diagnosed with Stage 2 Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) and Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma (SLL) in 2014 at age 63. With CLL, cancer cells are found mostly in blood and bone marrow, and SLL cancer cells are found mostly in the lymph nodes. The diseases are more common in older adults, with the average age of diagnosis at approximately 70 years old.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 21,250 people will be diagnosed with CLL in 2021. In addition, an estimated 4,320 people will die from CLL this year alone. Many patients can live with CLL and/or SLL for years without exhibiting symptoms, while others experience more serious symptoms, including shortness of breath and anemia (low red blood cell count).

When diagnosed, Romie’s lymph nodes were grossly enlarged, and she had a biopsy on her neck. As a result, she had a lymph node removed and was given a five-year life expectancy. She started chemotherapy, but her white blood cell count remained high, ultimately negatively affecting her bone marrow.

In 2017, Romie’s cancer progressed to Stage 4 and she was no longer able to maintain a chemotherapy regimen. She was starting to lose hope that she could not be cancer-free and continue doing what she loved most: Serving others.

However, in November of 2017, a clinical trial at Comprehensive Cancer Centers became available for patients with CLL or SLL. The trial, a study with BeiGene, compared the use of the study’s drug Zanubrutinib (also called BGB-3111) to standard chemotherapy. Dr. James Sanchez, Romie’s medical oncologist at Comprehensive, deemed Romie a candidate for the trial and she began the groundbreaking treatment.

As “Patient 001,” Romie was the first in the world to participate in the trial. In 2020 and three years after beginning the trial, Dr. Sanchez declared Romie with having no evidence of the disease. When Romie was told she was cancer-free, the 69-year-old cried tears of joy.

Though Romie will have to remain on the treatment for the rest of her life to ensure her cancer remains at bay, she is happy to continue fulfilling her calling to serve others. In fact, throughout her entire cancer journey, “Mama Romie” continued to work as a caregiver for Alzheimer’s patients. Her selfless participation in the life-saving clinical trial will allow future patients to also receive the treatment, potentially saving hundreds, if not thousands, of lives across the globe.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers has partnered with some of the world’s most recognizable research and cancer-fighting organizations including The US Oncology Network, UCLA TRIO-US, USC, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and leading pharmaceutical companies to offer groundbreaking research to its patients. The practice participates in more than 170 Phase I, Phase II and Phase III clinical research studies each year and has played a role in developing more than 100 FDA-approved cancer therapies. For more information on the practice’s latest trials, visit www.cccnevada.com or call 702-952-3350.