Conqueror in Action: Six-Time Survivor Brittany Sullivan Takes on Sarcoma

Brittany Sullivan and family

Brittany Sullivan with her husband and daughter

Brittany Sullivan is the patient of 2012 CCF Young Investigator Award (YIA) recipient Breelyn Wilky, MD. Dr. Wilky’s research led to a clinical trial in which Sullivan is a patient.

Alveolar soft part sarcoma (ASPS) is a cancer so rare that some oncologists have never heard of it.

Brittany Sullivan, a 29-year old anatomy teacher from Nashville, Tennessee, learned about it when she was three years old.  She has been conquering it ever since.

Since her childhood diagnosis, Sullivan’s cancer has returned five times. Most recently in 2012, a team of doctors discovered a sizable, inoperable tumor inside her heart. She was three months pregnant.

“Throughout the pregnancy and for several years after, we waited to see if the cancer would grow, and then tried a treatment that failed,” recalls Sullivan. “I had widely metastatic cancer, a husband, a two year-old daughter, and a lot to lose.”

The same year Brittany’s ASPS returned, Breelyn Wilky, MD, received a Young Investigator Award (YIA) from the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO supported by The WWWW Foundation, Inc. (QuadW). With the support of the CCF/QuadW YIA in memory of Willie Tichenor, Dr. Wilky could continue researching rare sarcomas.

“I sat at ASCO Annual Meeting and watched the plenary session where a new immune therapy drug was producing near-cures in melanoma,” says Dr. Wilky. “I knew that I wanted to spend my career on that pivotal frontline, and that I wanted my efforts to make a difference for patients with sarcoma.”

Just two years later, Dr. Wilky’s continued research resulted in a new clinical trial. Sullivan was the first patient to enroll.

“The only way these new treatments will become available for me and for so many others is for more clinical trials to be sponsored and started, for more doctors to be funded and inspired. We desperately need these doctors and we desperately need these trials,” says Sullivan, who recently shared her story at CCF’s annual dinner, An Evening to Conquer Cancer.  

“Up to this point, in that moment, and in the many difficult moments to come, cancer research gave me hope that there would be life without cancer again,” says Sullivan, “and indeed there will be.”

After 12 months under Dr. Wilky’s care, Sullivan’s widespread cancer has reduced to only a few small tumors. “The large, scary tumor that had been in my heart for four years has melted away to small shadows.”

Not only is the clinical trial providing life-sustaining treatment, it is allowing this six-time survivor to live out her dream.

“I have hoped to be part of the cure for cancer since I was a little girl. I went to PA [physician’s assistant] school to become a clinician, but was stopped from that career by my cancer,” explains Sullivan.  “I may not be able to be a Young Investigator now, but I am still contributing to cancer research as a patient so that we can bring hope and life to many others whose cancers are considered untreatable.”

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