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St. Francis Cancer Center: Clinical trial involvement triples, benefitting local residents

Author: Dayna Stroik

March 27, 2019
St. Francis Cancer Center/Patient Dick Rickaby

The care team at the St. Francis Cancer Center is committed to providing whole person care and connecting patients with cancer to cutting edge oncology research.

In recent years, there has been an extraordinary effort to increase the number of St. Francis patients given the opportunity to participate in national clinical research studies. Enrollment numbers for 2018 saw a remarkable increase from 2017, due to efforts by physician, Ayse Malcolm, MD, and clinical research nurse, Deb Sisler, RN, and an overall increase in the availability of eligible oncology studies.

Nationwide, patients with cancer benefit dramatically from today’s cutting-edge oncology research, including Chaska resident and St. Francis Cancer Center patient, Dick Rickaby.

In January 2017, Dick was diagnosed with an aggressive neuroendocrine cancer. Determined to fight, Dick was referred to St. Francis Cancer Center for care by his primary physician, so he could remain close to home. “I was so glad I didn’t have to go to the cities,” Dick recalls.

Unable to identify the origin of this cancer, Dick’s care team at St. Francis realized his cancer had metastasized to several areas, leaving him overwhelmed with symptoms. In an attempt to battle the progressing cancer, Dick was treated with traditional chemotherapy from February to August 2017, but by November his cancer was still progressing. Dick was fighting hard, but he and his wife of 55 years, LaVonne, felt they were losing ground.

In response, St. Francis Cancer Center research nurse, Deb Sisler, RN, located a clinical trial in early December, and worked tirelessly for weeks to secure enrollment for Dick. On December 26, 2017, he started two exploratory drugs to fight his cancer’s progression.

LaVonne recalls the day the Rickaby family learned of the trial opportunity, “When we first came in to Deb (to learn about the trial) it was overwhelming because there’s so much they tell you…she just did a wonderful job of explaining it.”

After a year and a half on the trial drugs, Dick’s tumor went from the size of a small grapefruit in December 2017, to an orange in February 2018, to a plum in April 2018, to a grape in September 2018, and now, in March 2019, to nearly the size of a raisin.

“It’s been terrific...That’s a long ways,” affirms Dick. At this time, and as long as he's benefiting from the drugs, Dick will remain a participant in the clinical research trial.

Of working closely with Dr. Malcolm and the Cancer Center team at St. Francis, LaVonne advocates, “We’d highly recommend it. The nurses are terrific, every one of them. They do wonderful work and make you feel comfortable.” For anyone considering options for their cancer care, Dick advises matter-of-factly, “It’s gotta be here.”

Dick is now considered to have a stable disease, denies any symptoms and has returned to his pre-cancer life, sharing special days with his adult children and grandchildren - special days he may not have been well enough to attend without the help of the clinical trial. “We were very fortunate that Dick and I were able to go to our oldest grandsons’ college graduations from North Dakota State University in December 2018," LaVonne recalls, "We were very happy that we were able to go.”

Now, with the help of the clinical trial and the stability of Dick's disease, Dick and LaVonne are able to spend more precious time doing the things they enjoy together, and with their family and friends. The Rickabys are grateful for the opportunities this life-saving trial has given them, the care they’ve received from the providers at the St. Francis Cancer Center, and most importantly, the support from family and friends though Dick’s journey.

For more information about the St. Francis Cancer Center, call 952.428.2031 or visit