I-Spy Cancer Killer

FRESNO, Calif.

Piper Denlinger lights up on the job.

"I love my job. I am so lucky. I have the best job in the best fire department in the United States." Piper Denlinger, firefighter, told Ivanhoe.

When the call comes in, she jumps behind the wheel. But a few months ago, she got a call while on duty that changed her life. She had stage-two breast cancer.

"The real emotional, hard part was the next day, getting up before everybody and realizing that was going to be the last time I was going to get to drive that engine for a long time." Denlinger said.

This 47-year-old is now part of a clinical trial called I-SPY at UC San Diego Health System. They're using chemo plus biological agents to target and wipe out cancer before surgery.

"It's not so much killing cells as changing them, so they then can't go on to duplicate andbecome worse and worse and worse," Anne Marie Wallace, M.D., Breast Cancer Surgeon Professor of Surgery at Moores UCSD Cancer Center in San Diego, said.

Doctors use MRIs and biopsies to constantly monitor the tumors and are able to see how the medication is working and adjust it. Typical clinical trials take 10 to 15 years to determine if drugs are working. I-SPY's feedback is immediate.

"What you do is shrink the tumor enough that 65 percent of the time, when you thought you were going to have to remove the breast, you can actually just do a lumpectomy." Dr. Wallace said.

Three weeks into Denlinger's treatment, her tumor has already gotten smaller.

"The fact that this little pill that I take every day is designed specifically for what I've got… that's amazing." Denlinger said.

Although she still suffers nausea and exhaustion, Denlinger was feeling well enough to make her first trip back to the firehouse since her diagnosis. It comes just a day after another breast cancer milestone -- she shaved her head the night before.

"It's just another stage. Every stage I go through means I'm one stage closer to getting back towork or it gets me back whole." Denlinger explained.

And the guys were ready to get her back as well.

"I miss my crew. I miss coming to work. I miss these clowns," Denlinger concluded.

A true fighter -- on and off the job.

The I-SPY trial is for patients with inch-sized tumors. By the way, Denlinger hopes to be back to work full-time by September.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at mhitchcock@ivanhoe.com

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.