Melinda Bachini is an extraordinary person living with a rare cancer called cholangiocarcinoma (or bile duct cancer). Diagnosed in October 2009 after severe upper gastrointestinal symptoms, this wife and mother of 6 underwent a partial liver resection (surgery) and the standard chemotherapy for this cancer—Gemzar (gemcitabine) and Platinol (cisplatin).
Eventually, Platinol was stopped because of toxicity and Gemzar was continued alone, but the tumor grew again. She began treatment with Avastin (bevacizumab), but the side effects again were too severe after a few months. Because she had no good treatment options, Melinda searched for new strategies, including clinical trials. She found a clinical trial for her type of cancer, and, in March 2012, enrolled in the trial through the National Cancer Institute. Her tumor responded extremely well, and the tumor continued to shrink even after completing treatment.
I was first introduced to Melinda in a webinar she was involved in about adoptive cell therapy using tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. This was the treatment she received at the trial, and to which her tumor responded so well. I was touched by her positive attitude in the webinar despite all that she had been through. The theme that resonated with me was her hope that other patients with cholangiocarcinoma would have successful treatment options. In February 2015, I met Melinda at the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation Annual Conference, where she was a guest speaker. She spoke with such poise and grace to a room full of physicians, researchers, patient advocates, and volunteers, that there were few dry eyes left in the room. She discussed the side effects of chemotherapy, from which she still suffers, the scars from surgery, and the importance of seeing patients as people. She also spoke about the lack of treatment options for cholangiocarcinoma, and why this needs to change.
Melinda and I spent a short time together, where I saw what a sweet, genuine, and down-to-earth person she is. I discovered that in addition to being a wife and mother of 6, she was a paramedic. She talked about her hopes of getting back to work, because of how much she loved helping others.
I have since learned that Melinda has become a patient advocate for the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation, and was awarded a scholarship for patient advocacy training in the 2015 Focus on Research Scholar program. She has also been featured in articles about adoptive cell therapy in the New York Times, Time, and other venues.
In addition to her full life at home in Montana and her advocacy involvement, she still finds time to serve as a moderator on the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation patient discussion board almost daily, and speaks with other patients and their families, offering caring words, understanding, and personal experience.