Long-Term Survivor Stories – Arlene Dworetsky

Arlene Dworetsky

Hi, my name is Arlene Dworetsky. I'm from Glastonbury, CT, originally from Hartford, CT. I'm a retired public elementary school teacher with more than 30 years of teaching experience. Currently, I'm a reading/math tutor for a public 3rd-5th grade elementary school in my area. I have a husband, two sons, and a beautiful baby grandson. My hobbies are reading, playing Mahjongg, playing tennis, traveling, and going for walks in nature.


On July 3, 2014, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma, which is bile duct liver cancer. I had a pain in my calf and was told by my primary care doctor to get an ultrasound. The results showed that I had a blood clot behind my knee that traveled to my lungs, which resulted in pulmonary emboli. I immediately was told to go to the hospital, and upon many diagnostic tests taken there, I was told that I had a 13cm tumor in my liver, which was the cholangiocarcinoma diagnosis.

You could have knocked me over with a feather! I had no idea what they were talking about! I had never heard of that type of cancer! Needless to say, I had to have immediate surgery, which entailed a left lobe liver resection that lasted eight hours. Unfortunately, after that, during three different forms of chemotherapy, my cancer metastasized to my back through 2016. Hospice was mentioned by my oncologist, but I refused to accept that as an option!

I became aware of another type of treatment called immunotherapy, from my cancer mentor, Lisa Craine - who I was fortunate to find through the American Cancer Society. Lisa had done much research into cholangiocarcinoma and suggested that I try this one form of immunotherapy called Keytruda. I was granted "compassionate use" through Merck, the makers of Keytruda, since it was not used for my form of cancer at that time.


This decision changed the course of my life. I am forever grateful to Lisa. She knew a man, from hundreds of cancer patients she’d mentored, who had been successful with Keytruda and put me in touch with him. His name was Matt Reidy. After listening to his story of success, I decided I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. He and Lisa gave me continued hope that this could also work for me.

I then went to Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York to get a second opinion on this decision, to which an oncologist there confirmed that this was the way for me to go. My hope continued to stay strong, with all the positive people in my life that encouraged me, helped me, and led me on a successful path through diligent research on my part and, of most importantly, Lisa's part. With a positive attitude and a strong support system, I felt that I could conquer this horrible disease. This gave me a great deal of hope to forge on.

Within six weeks of my Keytruda treatment (once every three weeks), my cancer began to subside significantly! My oncologist who treated me through Hartford Healthcare at the Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center could not believe my results! He had never seen anything like it! After close to a year on this treatment, I was fortunate to become cancer free, and have been in remission for almost four years.

My oncologist, knowing at that time, that Keytruda was originally targeted for small cell lung cancer, was shocked at how well it attacked the cholangiocarcinoma and took my results to the cancer board at Hartford Hospital. The results were nothing the board had ever seen before. My positive case with miraculous results became the catalyst for other cholangiocarcinoma patients in my oncologist's practice to begin trying this treatment. I was the first cholangiocarcinoma patient in his practice to achieve such successful results. I feel honored and so thankful to be able to pave the way for others by giving future cancer patients so much hope!

To this day, my oncologist calls me his "miracle patient.” I hope he will be able to say that about others in the same manner! Without Lisa, (who I call my "angel on earth"), and all the wonderful doctors who have taken care of me over the last five years on my cancer journey, I know the outcome would not have been the same. Throughout it all, my hope and belief that I could beat this horrible disease never wavered.

With all the significant strides in cancer research, and new immunotherapy treatments coming out all the time, I feel in my heart that there is a tremendous amount of hope we should have for cholangiocarcinoma patients to beat this cancer - and cancer patients in general. I am a perfect example of hope, and success, and wish all others out there battling this horrific disease, to be as successful as I have been.