Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

"You need fierce doctors..."

“Looking at it now, it seems there were angels at every turn,” said Linda Powell Pruitt, Ph.D., of her journey through treatments and clinical trials that have restored her health from a cureless disease.

Pruitt had come to Richmond in 2005 with her husband, Rev. Canon Alonzo Pruitt. They were newly married, starting new jobs and becoming part of a new congregation.

On her second wedding anniversary, however, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood and bone cancer for which there is no cure.

“I was stunned. This was not what we thought we were coming to Richmond for,” Pruitt recalled.

Or maybe it was.

Pruitt is an educator, organizational consultant, psychotherapist and author whose three decades of clinical, academic, corporate and nonprofit work have focused on organizational life and leadership. She has taught at prestigious universities, including Columbia and Harvard, so when she reached out for a second opinion, she had plenty of folks to ask. “I called around. Colleagues at Harvard and elsewhere told me to go to Massey; that Massey’s Bone Marrow Transplant Program is nationally known.”

“A friend who works at Massey told me to make an appointment with Dr. Gordon Ginder,” Pruitt continued. “I did not know at the time that he was the director of Massey, a world-class scientist and a specialist in blood cancers. It was like all of the signposts pointed to Massey.”

Pruitt began treatment with Massey’s Bone Marrow Transplant Program. Within six months, she was in remission. Her doctors suggested further treatment in order to maintain her health, and she joined a clinical study of tandem autologous bone marrow transplants run by Harold Chung, M.D.

“What that means is I had two transplants from my own bone marrow in six months,” Pruitt explained. “The process was challenging, but it all worked and I got back to work, which was important to me. After a while I got to a point where I felt that I was no longer a patient. I felt like a survivor.”

“During two years in remission, I learned a valuable lesson: It is really important to continue to talk about the cancer experience and accept it as part of who I am. This is a valued part of my life experience and identity,” Pruitt says.

As often happens with multiple myeloma, the cancer returned in 2008. Pruitt again sought treatment at Massey and again joined a clinical trial one born out of preclinical research conducted by Massey’s associate director of translational research, Steven Grant, M.D. in hopes of sending her cancer back in remission.

“This clinical trial is significant because it’s an amazing example of research that started as a concept right here in Dr. Grant’s lab and has shown so much promise that it has made it to the patient’s bedside. Patients like Linda who participate in this phase of the trial, could be helping bring a new, better treatment to patients across the country,” says Gordon Ginder, M.D., director of Massey Cancer Center.

Pruitt’s results were dramatic, making her eligible for the transplant and helping the study be considered for advancement in the NCI’s clinical trials process.

“I had a good outcome,” said Pruitt. “And it’s icing on the cake that through the clinical trial I may have had a small part in bringing a new treatment to future patients. There aren’t a lot of bright sides to the cancer journey, but knowing my experience may help others for years to come is a mighty shiny silver lining.”

She is now enrolled in her third clinical trial at Massey, helping test a new treatment for recurring multiple myeloma that researchers hope will prove to reduce complications often experienced by bone marrow transplant patients.

“Another thing I have learned on my journey is that you need fierce doctors who are passionate in their desire to cure your cancer,” Pruitt says. “And Massey is full of fierce doctors. That’s why my friends and colleagues were able to tell me that the best place for my diagnosis was literally just down the street.

Whether it was angels at every turn or happy accidents, I ended up in Richmond for a reason, and that reason is Massey.”