James Phil Barra

Buying Grandpa more time

As an old Army vet and retired school principal, James Phil Barra shoots straight. At 79, he tells people the stage 4 cancer that has challenged him for the past four years will probably have him “pushing up daisies” soon. But that doesn’t mean the witty Colorado Springs husband and grandfather won’t fight for more time if given a chance.

James was handed that opportunity through a clinical trial at Sarah Cannon Research Institute (SCRI) at HealthONE in Denver. After enduring a string of ineffective treatments that left him “sicker than a dog,” James’s doctors were out of options. They referred him to SCRI, a global network and HealthONE partner that conducts clinical trials across the country.

Now under the care of Dr. Gerald Falchook, director of SCRI at HealthONE, James has seen his salivary-cancer tumors stabilize in a first-in-human drug trial. The 10 months of experimental treatment he has received on this trial is longer than he has been on any of his prior therapies for his cancer. “They are just staying pains in the neck,” James jokes, adding that he’s thankful to have the trial and Falchook’s specialized team nearby. “I get a kick out of him. And he has some absolutely wonderful nurses. They really enjoy what they do and know what they are doing is valuable.”

James sees the staff three Tuesdays a month, undergoing a series of tests before getting his “bag of juice,” as he calls it. Although the “juice” hasn’t shrunk his tumors as it has with some other patients, his side effects are minimal, allowing him to enjoy his days. Whether that means cutting the grass or collecting with his grandson his treasured insulator cups (the colorful glass cups that once lined telephone poles in the early 1900s), having more quality moments is the point. “If it gives me more time with my family, then it’s worth it.” And, he adds: “You just never know.”