Patient funds lab of physician she credits with saving her life

When Janice Hall was diagnosed at an area hospital with stage IV colon cancer that had metastasized to her liver, doctors said that the only thing she and her husband Robert could do was prepare for her death.

Unwilling to accept that advice, they acted quickly to get a second opinion — an action that led them to USC Norris Cancer Comprehensive Cancer Center and Anthony El-Khoueiry, MD, director of the Phase 1 drug development clinical program and medical director of the Clinical Investigations Support Office.

That decision took place 11 years ago. Today, a thriving Janice credits El-Khoueiry and the team at USC Norris for her continued triumphs in overcoming her diagnosis.

The Halls were so grateful for the treatment Janice received that they have made a major gift to fund the Robert and Janice Hall Biospecimen Processing and Analysis Laboratory, a new lab at USC Norris that will soon be on the forefront of Phase 1 clinical trial research under the direction of El-Khoueiry.

“I’m not planning on going anywhere,” she told El-Khoueiry near the beginning of her treatment. “I’m not ready to go. As soon as you make me well, I will start raising money for you.”

True to her word, as soon as she was able, Janice began to not only make plans to fund the lab with the Halls’ own money, but she also started a campaign among the clients of Robert Hall & Associates, the accounting firm she built with her husband. Eventually the couple had enough gifts and pledges to match their initial gift, bringing the current total to fund the program to half a million dollars.

Janice believes that everyone should give back, no matter the amount. “If you can only give me five dollars, you find 19 more people to give me five dollars, and that makes $100. That’s exactly how I raised the rest of the money for the lab.”

Currently, the Phase 1 program evaluates novel therapeutics for the treatment of cancer, including more than 30 ongoing studies. This new centralized lab, which will collect specimens from patients in clinical trials, is critical to supporting the efforts of researchers to understand newly tested drug effects and mechanisms of action.

El-Khoueiry explains that this centralized lab is very important to the efficacy of the program.

“It helps keep the quality of the samples,” he says. “You have to process the specimens in a timely fashion, you have to process them correctly, log them in and track who they’ve been shared with. All of these are important elements and when you have a centralized place, you can do this much better.”

In addition to the lab itself, the Halls’ gift will help maintain ongoing operation of the Phase 1 program. Plans include follow-up trials, preclinical work to explore biomarkers —measurable characteristics that may indicate cancer — and synergistic drug combinations, program administration and more state-of-the-art lab equipment for specimen processing. These efforts will be made possible in large part by the generosity and hard work of the Halls.

El-Khoueiry was not surprised that Janice is as tireless a fundraiser as she is a patient.

“It’s a rewarding relationship with them,” he notes. “She’s very passionate and she feels like she’s been given a chance and she wants to give back. It’s inspiring to the doctor, but also, I am sure, to other patients.”

Part of the reason the Halls believe so much in El-Khoueiry and the USC Norris staff is that the positive clinical outcomes are enhanced by the caring, positive attitude that is reflected throughout the hospital every day.

“They brought hope when other doctors said there wasn’t any,” Robert says. “I find that there’s humanity there. I just think that one thing USC Norris offers that most of the other institutions don’t offer is that humanity.”

With plans for the lab underway and Janice again having scans that show her to be currently cancer free, the Halls have no plans to slow down their efforts to keep asking far and wide for more people to get involved with giving to USC Norris.

“Cancer is a catastrophic disease. It loves to rear its ugly head,” Janice says with a determined look. “I like to keep rearing back. I’m at the right place at the right time, with the right treatment. I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’m still kicking. That’s my story.”

by Amanda Busick