Against All Odds

Mon­ica Mur­phy-Ku­mar de­fied the odds.

Capitol File - - WEDDINGS -

She boldly stared into the eyes of a known killer —stage 4 melanoma — and didn’t flinch. Ex­perts gave Mon­ica only a 1 in 5 chance of sur­vival. The ex­perts did not know, how­ever, the size of the fight within Mon­ica or the for­mi­da­ble team she as­sem­bled in her cor­ner. Mon­ica’s in­cred­i­ble jour­ney be­gan in the con­fines of a doc­tor’s of­fice. Twenty-one weeks preg­nant, try­ing to cor­ral her 14-month-old son on her lap, her doc­tor de­liv­ered the sober­ing news that Mon­ica had metastatic melanoma. Her preg­nancy lim­ited the use of ad­vanced di­ag­nos­tic tech­nolo­gies to gauge if or where the cancer had spread. The tests that could be per­formed safely re­vealed no causes for con­cern. About a month after Mon­ica and her hus­band, Ramesh, wel­comed into the world their healthy, beau­ti­ful son Ro­nan, a CT scan dis­cov­ered Mon­ica’s cancer had in­deed spread to her lungs. Historically, a di­ag­no­sis like the one Mon­ica re­ceived car­ries with it the word in­cur­able. Mon­ica was un­daunted and de­ter­mined to live. She ig­nored the odds. Mon­ica and Ramesh knew that they needed help to de­feat the cancer. They eval­u­ated sev­eral hos­pi­tals and cancer spe­cial­ists. They chose Dr. Sek­won Jang. Said Mon­ica about Dr. Jang, “he just seemed to know where the fu­ture was go­ing.” Dr. Jang pre­scribed a per­son­al­ized treat­ment plan that in­cluded Yer­voy, an im­munother­apy that stim­u­lated Mon­ica’s own im­mune sys­tem to fight the cancer. Even with Yer­voy’s po­ten­tial to halt metastatic melanoma, sta­tis­tics gave pa­tients only a 20 to 25 per­cent sur­vival rate after three years. Mon­ica wrote off the sta­tis­tics. She rea­soned some­one as young as her with two won­der­ful sons and a great hus­band could not die. So, with the skill­ful­ness of her doctors and the un­wa­ver­ing sup­port of her fam­ily, she fought. At the con­clu­sion of the of Yer­voy treat­ments, a CT scan re­vealed the tu­mors on Mon­ica’s lungs had de­creased. Even­tu­ally, they dis­ap­peared. The med­i­cal term for this re­mark­able out­come is No Ev­i­dence of Dis­ease or N.E.D. Mon­ica was N.E.D. She won. Only five years ago, with­out the knowl­edge and medicines Inova cancer spe­cial­ists have to­day, Mon­ica may not have over­come the odds. Phi­lan­thropy has driven re­search to dis­cover new ther­a­pies like Yer­voy to give pa­tients a fight­ing chance — to help them beat the odds.

Help cancer pa­tients like Mon­ica and their fam­i­lies de­feat cancer and oblit­er­ate the odds. Sup­port cancer re­search and care at the Inova Schar Cancer In­sti­tute.

Mon­ica Mur­phy-Ku­mar and Sek­won Jang, MD

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