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“I may be the last living survivor of anyone who received Coley's toxins.”
Donald Foley, 75, had no intention of becoming part of the medical history books. When he was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 13, the only thing he cared about was returning to play baseball with his friends.
His doctors tried to keep the scope of his illness a secret, but Donald learned later that he came very close to losing his right arm—and his life. In those days, amputation was a commonly employed treatment for sarcoma. Luckily for Donald, his doctor at the time knew about some unconventional research being done at Memorial Hospital in New York under the direction of Bradley Coley, M.D.
Bradley Coley is the son of William Bradley Coley, M.D., the 19th century New York surgeon widely hailed as the “Father of Cancer Immunotherapy.” Bradley’s sister, Helen Coley Nauts, was the founder of the Cancer Research Institute (CRI). Both Bradley and Helen believed strongly in the value of William Coley’s approach to treating cancer. This approach involved inoculating patients with heat-killed bacteria in the hopes of stimulating a vigorous immune response against the cancer. This bacterial concoction became known as Coley’s toxins. William Coley developed this approach after noting a striking correlation between patients coming down with a bacterial infection and their cancer mysteriously disappearing. Over the course of his 40-year career, he treated hundreds of patients—some quite successfully—with his toxin therapy.
For Donald, the approach was a lifesaver. He went on to live a normal life, even becoming a professional firefighter. TheAnswertoCancer (TheA2C) spoke with Donald about being one of the last surviving patients treated at Memorial with Coley’s toxins—the world’s first immunotherapy.
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