It was 1968 when Christine Shaffer first came to Buffalo. The native of Erie, Pa. arrived to attend secretarial school for one year at Bryant & Stratton College. She stayed in Buffalo, working at Roswell Park as a medical secretary until 1975 when her career took a turn in the American Foreign Service.
But in 2018, her life’s journey brought her back to Buffalo, back to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, this time as a patient seeking something of a miracle.
See, Christine is in her second battle with pancreatic cancer, the cells having now made their way to her lungs. Her husband, Mike, spent early mornings scouring the internet when he found a press release from Roswell Park about the research of Dr. Fengzhi Li and a promising new treatment for pancreatic cancer.
“My husband is continually doing the research. He doesn’t ever sit still,” Christine said. “It was Oct. 14. It was a Sunday. I remember it vividly. He came to me and said, ‘Christine, I sent you this article. Go to your computer and read it. It’s incredible. It’s from Roswell Park again. It just sounds too good to be true almost.’
“I read it and I got real excited and my husband typed a note to Dr. Li. Literally within an hour he got a response.”
What had Christine so excited was a headline with the press release, which included the phrase “eliminated pancreatic tumors.”
Turns out, Dr. Li, an associate professor of oncology in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics at Roswell, has been researching the use of a compound found in the bark of a rare Chinese tree that has both powerful anticancer properties and is low in toxicity for patients. The results of their study of this compound, called F118, was published in the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research in October.
Her husband and Dr. Li immediately started a feverish email exchange. Within a week, the couple was on a plane to Buffalo for Christine to have her biopsy performed by Dr. Li. The workup with show the molecular profile of her cancer and point towards possible treatment options. Christine is hopeful to be part of a planned clinical trial in the spring of 2019.
After learning that she would not be able to immediately fly back to Florida, Christine found her way to Kevin Guest House, where she brought her story, enthusiasm for the research at Roswell Park, and an overall outlook of positivity that radiated through the house.
But getting to that place of optimism wasn’t an easy part of Christine’s journey.
“I had to get myself last year into that whole positive mind set. It was like I was a party of one,” Christine said. “I know people don’t want to give false hope. I understand that. But you can give a little hope , a little encouragement.
“For me, that was the personal part of my journey. I feel like there’s a lot I have to learn about myself and about life and about God and about everything. And I am doing that by the boatload full on this journey. Now coming to Roswell and returning back to my roots and where I started, it’s not lost on me. It really isn’t.”