Photo by Matt Keller
Candis Perrault has always loved Vermont, Charlotte in particular. That is why she chose to return to the town to raise her sixteen-year-old son Hayden after spending many years in New York and Connecticut building her career, eventually becoming an executive at G.E. Capital in the 1990s. And lately, as she faces the toughest challenge of her life, she feels more strongly than ever that coming home was the right decision so that “Hayden can be raised in the same beautiful area of the earth that I was.”
However, there is another, more somber reason why Perrault is so happy to be living in Vermont. She has received two back-to-back cancer diagnoses, and feels she has found “the most innovative cancer doctor in the world” living right down the street in Shelburne, and that is her duty, in her remaining years, to spread his message of hope and his plea for research dollars.
Dr. David Krag is a researcher, surgeon, an academic, and a practitioner. “It helps in my field to see problems from both sides,” he said referring to the lab as well as the hospital room.
The field Krag refers to is cancer research, specifically breast cancer research. According to Krag, his new current endeavor is so promising that it may lead to a cure of all cancers, not just breast cancer.
Krag has lived in Shelburne, near the town border with Charlotte, for 25 years. His brother is a spine surgeon, also at UVM Medical Center, and Krag first fell in love with the area and met his future colleagues while attending his brother’s wedding in the Burlington area in the late 1980s.
If you ran into Perrault running errands in Charlotte, you wouldn’t guess that she is the former chair of the Relay for Life, and if you saw Krag riding his recumbent bike around Shelburne, you may not suspect that he is on the cusp of a breakthrough breast cancer procedure that might change how the disease is treated.
“The goal is to cure cancer,” Krag stated emphatically last week in his office in the Given Building at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
It is called a Sentinel Node Biopsy and in layman’s terms, it allows doctors all over the world to surgically remove breast cancer in a much less invasive way than had previously been practiced. It is now standard industry care. Additionally, he expanded that research into what he calls the “largest surgical trial ever done on breast cancer patients in the United States.”
Now Krag is onto antibodies, which are produced by B cells in the body, he said. To put it simply, the immune system naturally fights disease, but it is inhibited by cancer from doing so. The brake stays on, so to speak. The immune system is divided into T and B cells and according to Dr. Krag “there is already a lot of people working with T cells in the research world, trying to take the breaks off, but the immune system works in tandem. The idea is to identify the individual B cells that are making the antibodies against the cancer. Then making a copy so you can reproduce them.”
These antibodies are often found in the lymph nodes, but they don’t reproduce to fight cancer the way they should. Krag wants to take them out into the lab, multiply them, and reintroduce them into the body in order to fight cancer more aggressively. He said that with the right balance, the procedure would have the ability to cure cancer.
Krag said he has been approved by the FDA to conduct trials, but that he needs funding. “Research funding is at an all time low right now,” he said.
This is where Perrault, and her background in corporate communication and public relations, have been able to return the favor to the doctor who treated her for breast cancer, and who she originally met and bonded with in the 1990s when she was with the Relay for Life.
Perrault’s first diagnosis was breast cancer in May of 2014, and just eight weeks later she was diagnosed with incurable liver cancer. She has been prescribed with chemotherapy, but she would rather spend her time attempting to raise awareness for Krag’s research. “I do not need to prolong my life and suffer from a drug that is going to make me feel worse than I already do,” she said.
Perrault’s goal is to see if this therapy can prove itself at clinical trials, which would be a huge breakthrough for the research, she said. “This is how I can complete my circle of hope,” she said.
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