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From a “blessing” to a “lifesaver”: AFSC Enables a Cancer Patient to Join a Clinical Research Trial

If you’ve learned anything about Angel Flight South Central, you know that our flights make an enormous difference to the patients and humanitarian workers who use our service. Our volunteer pilots transport people to life-saving treatment every day. But sometimes it’s easy to forget just how literally Angel Flight can bridge the gap between life and death.

When Cathy Osborn learned she had cancer in 2009, it was a big enough blow. Cathy’s close-knit family includes her husband, mother, son, daughter-in-law, and grandsons – all three of them just entering adulthood. She made the 45-minute trip from her home to Little Rock not long after to have the tumor surgically removed. It was at that point she learned that her cancer was actually located in her appendix.

Only about 1,000 people each year develop appendix cancer, so effective treatments are less well understood. In fact, Cathy’s tumor did not respond to chemo, and she has had to resort to multiple surgeries, none of which have eradicated the cancer entirely.

Then, just last year, Cathy heard that a clinical research trial to test an experimental treatment for appendix cancer had just been approved MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Only 20 slots were available in the trial, and when Cathy learned six months ago she could have the last spot, she hesitated.

Cathy’s home is 500 miles away from Houston. The clinical trial could last as long as a year and would require her to travel to Houston every other week. This meant that a family member or friend would have to spend 16 hours total in the car every other week. This felt like too much of a burden to place on her loved ones, so Cathy thought about turning down the spot in the clinical trial, even though her doctor told her she had no other options for treatment.

That’s when Cathy realized that Angel Flight South Central might be the saving grace she needed.

During the earlier phases of her treatment, she had flown with AFSC multiple times, but at that stage she only needed to travel every six months. When Cathy learned that Angel Flight could provide her with free flights from Little Rock to Houston even during this more intense phase of treatment, suddenly the impossible became possible. “Angel Flight has gone from being a blessing to being a lifesaver,” says Cathy. “If it hadn’t been for Angel Flight, I probably never even would have told my family about this clinical trial.”

Last week, AFSC volunteer pilot and board chair Dianna Stanger flew Cathy and several of her family members to Houston for her first treatment through the clinical trial.

[Pictured above: Cathy Osborn (second from left) shown with AFSC pilots Dianna Stanger (far left) and Jack Blackshear (in a blue shirt behind Cathy) and some fellow Angel Flight passengers.]

Over the years since Cathy began her cancer treatment, she has flown with multiple volunteer pilots, but Arkansas-based Dr. Jack Blackshear stands out in her mind. “He has flown me a lot and usually takes me about halfway there. Your pilots are so nice and considerate.”


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