Pastor Jerrold Burnside said his faith kept him going when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer at age 55.
"I knew if I made it a year that would be pretty good," he said. "I had a good cry."
Then he got word of an experimental kidney cancer vaccine at Duke Medical Center.
"After that time, I had a beautiful peace about everything that lasted months and months. And I wasn't afraid anymore," he said.
The vaccine uses the patient's immune system as a weapon. Researchers genetically modify white blood cells to target the tumor.
"We can generate these immune cells in the body, which then go on a search-and-destroy mission throughout the body to kill cancer cells," said Dr. Johannes Vieweg, a Duke researcher.
Vieweg said each vaccine is created specifically for every patient.
"Cancers are a very personal disease. Not every cancer is the same, and cancers are different from patient to patient," Vieweg said.
The vaccine is still being tested, but researchers said the results are encouraging.
Burnside said it has helped him live three years longer than anyone expected. He has no signs of cancer, but doctors are not calling it a cure yet.
"They don't know and I don't know. Right now, I really don't worry about it," Burnside said.
He said he is happy to do all the things he loves most.
"I have a rich, full life and I enjoy what I'm doing. I'm not ready to die and give it up and leave the people I love," Burnside said.
Duke researchers said that although the study was small, patients responded to the vaccine well and were living an average 20 months.
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