(CBS) –Francis Cardinal George is hoping to make his final visit to the Vatican as archbishop of Chicago in late November, CBS 2 has learned.
The cardinal had to postpone a planned October trip as he embarked on a new cancer treatment. CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports that could result in the cardinal being more active, longer than even he had thought.
Two weeks into his new treatment program, the cardinal shows no signs of slowing down.
CBS 2 caught up with him as he left home for a scheduled Catholic extension meeting, hopeful that the experimental drug will allow his immune system to better fight the cancer.
“It destroys the guard that blocks the immune system that is now from fighting cancer cells, once that is done the immune system is doing what it’s supposed to do, so the body heals itself,” Cardinal George said.
The cardinal is one of 300 patients accepted into the University of Chicago’s phase 2 trial of a drug which has shown remarkable progress shrinking tumors like his.
“Traditional chemo therapy’s abilities to shrink tumors is somewhere around 10 percent, whereas in this therapy, earlier studies showed 45 to 50 percent,” said Dr. Russell Szmulewitz with the University of Chicago Hospital.
Researchers here are involved in a number of studies on drugs targeting immune systems to fight cancers rather than the cancers themselves. That’s how Bob Farmer’s doctors have been treating his inoperative melanoma.
“I get my third treatment today, three of four, and everything’s fine. I feel good I’m playing golf doing exercise, doing everything I normally did before,” said Farmer.
Doctors here can’t talk about the Cardinal’s case, but just the fact that he was accepted, is encouraging.
“We have the expectation that a patient will be able to at least receive at least six to nine months of therapy assuming that they’re achieving clinical benefit,” said Dr. Szmulewitz.
Cardinal George believes it was a good sign he was accepted for the trial and that it, “would have been a very bad sign if I hadn’t been.”
With drug treatment once every three weeks, the cardinal expects to keep a full schedule, including the trip to Rome he’d been wanting to take.
“The meeting in November is one on evangelization in cities and then it’s also with congregation of divine worship and hopefully see who else I can see,” Cardinal George said. “I would like to see the pope.”
A November trip to Rome suggests the cardinal doesn’t believe his successor will be named before then. The cardinal had asked that the search begin back in May, when his prognosis was uncertain, but if the new treatment is as promising as it appears, the pope could wait until the time cardinals are normally replaced at age 78, which for Cardinal George will be next January.
The cardinal is also expected to attend the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore in November.