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Katie Doble’s Journey with Ocular Melanoma

TIL therapy has given my family and me next-level hope. At 31 years old, I received my first cancer diagnosis—primary uveal melanoma, meaning it was contained in my eyeball. I received radiation therapy to my left eye and told, based on a biopsy of the cells, there was a less than 2% chance of metastatic disease (or mets). A year and a half later, I was diagnosed with stage 4, incurable uveal melanoma when 12+ suspicious lesions were found on my liver. My first doctor told me I’d get started on Yervoy, the only FDA-approved treatment option at the time and would have 16 months to live. 

Katie Doble

Thankfully, my physician father turned “agent” sprang into action and called doctors across the country to find us a better treatment option. I enrolled in my first clinical trial in 2015 and spent the next several years in and out of three clinical trials peppered with liver embolization treatments and gamma knife when it spread to my brain. With each trial, we prayed the treatment would buy me more time. 

TIL was a therapy we’d explored and kept on the back burner. In 2020, my tumors that had remained stable for quite some time, nearly doubled in size. In July of that year, I had a tumor laparoscopically removed from my liver. From those cells, my doctor harvested the TIL (tumor infiltrating lymphocytes). I underwent a leukapheresis procedure the following month which extracted my white blood cells to feed to the TIL to multiply from the millions to the billions. In September of 2020, I stayed in the hospital for 21 days during which I received a week of chemo, a TIL infusion and IL-2, an intense treatment that feels like a joint respiratory and stomach flu with a rash and banging headache. 

My tumors responded really well to the treatment by shrinking or disappearing. Reversal of a disease like uveal melanoma is extremely rare. One tumor in particular was behaving differently. It appeared to be growing but because the TIL is made up of cancerous cells, we didn’t know if it was TIL or cancer. In September of 2021, my doctor surgically removed half of my liver and all remaining cancer cells. I awoke from anesthesia to hear the words we never thought possible, “They got it all, Katie. You are NED (no evidence of disease).” 

On January 1, 2022, I entered my 40s, and on March 17, 2022, I celebrated 6 months of being NED. It still feels surreal. I often think back to the darkness and hopelessness I felt when those 12+ tumors were first found in my liver. I am grateful for all the trials and treatments that have prolonged my life. And I am elated that TIL rendered me NED and is now available to more of my peers.