Against All Odds
Monica Murphy-Kumar defied the odds.
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.
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Monica Murphy-Kumar and Sekwon Jang, MD