Photo courtesy of Colin Craig
Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2018 Major League Baseball season, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Mariners are recognizing “Hutch Heroes,” individuals who face cancer with the same determination and spirit as our center’s namesake, Seattle baseball legend Fred Hutchinson. We are proud to share more about one of our featured Hutch Heroes here, and we invite you to show your support for them — and help fuel discoveries that can start cures — by donating to Fred Hutch.
Colin Craig wasn’t expecting to be diagnosed with cancer when he told his primary care physician about the occasional abdominal pain he was experiencing. Craig, then 64, had always been healthy and active, save for a few minor injuries sustained doing activities he enjoyed.
But long rides on his bicycle had begun to end in unexpected exhaustion, and patients at his dental practice wondered why he looked so pale and gray.
Craig was diagnosed with stage 3 follicular lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that is treatable but cannot be cured. Born and raised in Seattle, Craig chose to undergo treatment at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the clinical care partner of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, after hearing that several of his dental patients had had good experiences there.
Craig met with Dr. David Maloney, one of Fred Hutch’s experts in immunotherapy, an umbrella term for treatments that harness the power of the immune system to tackle cancer. Craig’s prognosis at the time was not good, but he was optimistic.
“We needed to be aggressive, because we only wanted to do this once,” Craig said.
Maloney mentioned the possibility for Craig to enter a Phase 3 clinical trial comparing standard lymphoma therapy to a new treatment regimen, and he jumped at the chance.
“I was lucky enough to get the trial arm … It was amazing,” he said. Craig received an immunotherapy called rituxan, but instead of the four drugs it’s usually combined with, he was given rituxan plus just one new drug.
When the trial started, Craig’s spleen was the size of a football. Within three months, his doctors could no longer feel the mass. Within six months Craig was in remission. He continued treatment for 18 more months. Though his cancer is incurable, he’s remained in remission for five years, all without the nausea, hair loss and exhaustion that can accompany other cancer treatments. He didn’t even miss any work.
“Unless people knew that I had cancer, they could never tell by looking at me,” Craig recalled. “I didn’t have any of the side effects that might possibly happen.”
Paying it forward
The trial that Craig participated in is ongoing. He will continue to undergo monitoring for 10 years.
He knows his cancer is not completely gone, but he doesn’t waste much time pondering the what ifs.
Now, Craig cherishes the time he can spend with his wife of 46 years, two sons and four grandchildren. He’s back to biking, hiking and boating. He still treats patients at the dental practice he started 40 years ago.
Craig is only too aware that others aren’t as lucky as he has been. So he is committed to helping scientists make the breakthroughs that will give other patients their lives back.
“I think this is a very exciting time in cancer research,” he said. “I think people need an awareness of how many people they know actually deal with this. … It’s such an exciting time in the immunotherapies. Who knows what the next breakthrough will be. I’m excited to be part of that.”
He’s participated in the 100-mile Obliteride to raise funds for Fred Hutch research. He also rides and coaches other cyclists for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program and, as Team Craig’s Legs, his friends and family have raised more than $275,000 for LLS’s Big Climb event. In the past two years, LLS has funded more than $1.5 million in research grants to Fred Hutch.
“Sometimes I feel guilty. I see other people and what they go through … and I’ve kind of sailed through. But that’s why I work to raise money — so future cancer patients have better treatments,” he said.
Sabrina Richards, a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has written about scientific research and the environment for The Scientist and OnEarth Magazine. She has a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Washington, an M.A. in journalism and an advanced certificate from the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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