Cheerleader beats cancer with help from drug developed locally

PUYALLUP, Wash.-- Emerald Ridge High School cheer coach Kaitie Johnson has good reason to count her blessings.

The young woman was sidelined by a cancer diagnosis, but she is alive today thanks to a new drug developed by Seattle Genetics in Bothell.

The former cheerleader now a coach at her alma mater, says she's also alive thanks in part to the team.

"I was diagnosed the summer before my senior year," she said.

In 2009, Johnson was a junior, a cheerleader and captain of the squad.

At practice one day she threw out her shoulder.

A simple injury that led to therapy, then the discovery of a bigger problem.

"I was actually at my last massage therapy appointment and my massage therapist felt a lump in my neck," she said.

Cancer was attacking her lymph nodes.

Hodgkin's Lymphoma is highly survivable, but requires rigorous treatment.

She started chemo and missed out on cheer.

Still the cancer kept growing as her chance for survival shrunk from 80 percent to just 20.

"Her mom was just crying in my office. There were just tears coming out," Dr. Michael Liao, Kaitie's doctor said.

But Dr. Liao knew of a drug called Adcetris

Developed in Bothell it's known for it's potency yet fewer side effects.

"Within just two rounds of getting it, it was in full remission and I was able to go immediately into a stem cell transplant. The week after I had my CT scan I found out I was in remission," she said.

That was two years ago.

"I've been in remission ever since," she said.

She is now planning on college and getting time in with the cheer team--the sport she says saved her.

"The one lesson I really learned out of it was you have to take it one day at a time and you have to have a positive attitude," she said.

For Johnson, it took 16 cycles of the drug to kill off the cancer cells, while sparing the healthy cells.