If your treatment options offer only a small chance of improvement, how do you know if you should proceed with hope of being an exceptional responder? It's a question Ella Remmings addressed in her email message mentioned in my last post.
"The presence of a certain genetic mutation makes us merely more likely to respond to a targeted treatment, if there happens to be one that matches our particular mutation." Then she explained that, most often, it's through trial-and-error: You try one treatment. If it fails, you try another, and so on.
Remmings had undergone various chemotherapy cocktails, radiofrequency ablation, two types of radiation and, finally, an unconventional radical surgery before achieving a lasting remission that "was due to a multimodality approach, where various interventions 'held me over’ just long enough to try the next one."
In her email, she called herself a guinea pig, a common term applied to people who take cutting-edge treatments. I much prefer to call her an informed patient whose fortitude through round after round of treatment kept open the possibility for her current treatment-induced longstanding remission.
Remming's primary message to patients is: "Don’t write yourself off too soon."
In answer to the title question, patients have no way of knowing ahead of time if they might be exceptional responders. Patients need to have hope.
Remmings email ended with a quote from my book When a Parent Has Cancer, “If you have any chance for improvement, you have solid ground for hope.”