Leonel Rodriguez: Helpful Treatment Through a Cancer Clinical Trial


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Leonel Rodriguez latino cancer survivor
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Leonel Rodriguez got some terrible news in November 2019.

Doctors diagnosed Rodriguez, a South Texas resident, with mantle cell lymphoma – an aggressive, rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

After going through several treatment options, his disease persisted.

He soon learned about a potentially beneficial clinical trial for lymphoma patients at the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio. Clinical trials help researchers learn how to better slow, manage, and treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

“[Clinical trials were] the best way because, you know, I feel good now with the treatment,” Rodriguez said. “Now I feel I’ve been feeling well, and well, well.”

Rodriguez’s Decision to Participate in a Clinical Trial

Rodriguez first experienced problems in 2015, suffering from a heart attack.

“I probably had the cancer at that time, but I did not know,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t feel the symptoms until maybe six to eight months after the heart attack.”

In 2016, Leonel began to notice lumps on his neck that continued to grow and spread as he experienced more symptoms.

“The doctor said that he was sorry, but I was not going to live more than three or four more months,” Rodriguez said. “He said that there were some trials going on in Houston and San Antonio, so I said, ‘yes, I will try San Antonio.’”

Rodriguez began seeing Matthew Butler, MD, medical director of hematology at the Mays Cancer Center in 2019 and received access to more comprehensive treatment options and specialized care.

He then began treatment, a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy to boost his immune system.

While he had a good response, his disease relapsed in March 2021.

Rodriguez would then receive targeted therapy aimed at specific molecules in his cancer cells, controlling his disease for another seven months before relapsing again.

Butler would refer Rodriguez to Enrique Diaz, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology- Oncology. Diaz recommended that Rodriguez join an investigational study for mantle cell lymphoma: a Phase 1, Open-Label Study to Evaluate the Safety, Tolerability, Pharmacokinetics and Preliminary Efficacy of HMPL-689 in Patients with Relapsed or Refractory Lymphoma.

Although he hadn’t participated in a clinical trial before, when presented with the option, Rodriguez took the opportunity.

By June 2022, he started the first 28-day cycle of the three-year trial and received the medication as a tablet called HMPL-689. Rodriguez was pleased that the medication had no side effects, and he could save hours of commuting by taking the medication at home.

Rodriguez Experienced Benefits from the Clinical Trial Treatment

Rodriguez praised how the clinical trial’s treatment has helped him.

He had been dealing with one of the most common symptoms of mantle cell lymphoma, which are enlarged lymph nodes that cause include painless swellings throughout the body.

Leonel Rodriguez cancer clinical trial participation
Leonel Rodriguez

“6 weeks ago, I had a big [swelling lymph node] on my head that you could see very easily, I had to use a hat to cover it,” Rodriguez said. “It was like, woof, like half of a golf ball.”

With the help of the treatment, the swelling on his head went away.

“Two or three days after the trial, I felt [the swollen lymph node] was going down,” he said, “and in three weeks disappeared completely.”

While participating in a clinical trial has been a new experience for Rodriguez, it has also been rewarding.

“If [others] have my same kind of cancer, take it. Take this trial. It’s good, it’s been very good for me.”

Rodriguez has come full circle in his life.

After immigrating from Guatamala to the United States in 1979, he spent more than 30 years as a health data collector and research assistant, utilizing his native Spanish language to interview patients in America.

He is now retired, living in Kingsville, Texas, which is just south of San Antonio.

How Can You Join a Clinical Trial?

You can be like Rodriguez!

Visit the Salud America! clinical trials page to learn more about volunteer opportunities and how you and your familia can participate.

Our team, led by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez of UT Health San Antonio, is sharing open clinical trials and uplifting the voices and stories of Latinos who have participated in clinical trials to encourage Latinos to volunteer. This work is supported by a grant from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.

“Latinos are in clinical trials are not only helping themselves, but they are also building a future with better treatments that can help their families and communities,” Ramirez said.

Latinos are historically and presently underrepresented in clinical research.

Without Latino participation in clinical trials, the benefits of learning more about treatment and through research could miss this demographic.

Consider joining a trial today!


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This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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