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Clinical trials at UT Medical Center make a difference

When Corey Smith was pregnant with her second child, she noticed something odd — a gray lump on her stomach.

When she asked her doctor, she was told it was probably nothing. After later finding a lump in her armpit, she began to think otherwise.

Corey Smith says her husband, Tony, has been supportive since she learned she has stage-four melanoma.

Corey Smith says her husband, Tony, has been supportive since she learned she has stage-four melanoma.

After almost two years of seeing doctors and specialists, she was referred to The University of Toledo Medical Center, where she received the news she had been dreading. Smith, a 26-year-old mother of two from Wauseon, Ohio, had stage-four melanoma.

“I had two small children, 26 years old, and I had just spent a year at my job,” Smith said. “I didn’t feel like I had time for this.”

Within two months of her diagnosis, 31 lymph nodes in her arm had been removed along with a tumor on her left adrenal gland. Even after that, more lymph nodes were affected and another tumor was found in her back.

When it was decided that she would have to go through chemotherapy, she and her doctors looked into clinical trials at UTMC. To Smith, chemotherapy simply wasn’t an option.

“I was on the couch for two to three months because of surgeries, and with chemo I was told for the first month I wouldn’t want to do anything and I’d be sick, and then for the next 11 months I was going to be so tired I wouldn’t want to work,” Smith said. “I had plans; my kids are 6 and 2.”

For her clinical trial, called Yervoy, Smith receives treatments once every three weeks for four treatments and then gets another four treatments once every three months. After her eight scheduled treatments, Smith hopes to be cancer-free.

“I did two treatments and went back to work,” Smith said. “I’m doing family stuff, I’ve been able to participate in school functions. People tell me they wouldn’t even know I have cancer, and I love that.”

Yervoy is a type of immunotherapy drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat metastatic melanoma. Unlike chemotherapy, Yervoy doesn’t directly kill melanoma; instead, it boosts the body’s natural defenses so that they can fight the disease on their own.

To learn more about Clinical Trials Awareness Week, follow @UTmed on Twitter or follow UTMC on Facebook. To see a complete list of clinical trials available at UTMC, click here.

According to the American Cancer Society, only 5 percent of cancer patients are participating in clinical trials. Trials also are available for arthritis, diabetes, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and more.

“With clinical trials, you sound almost like you’re going to be a guinea pig,” Smith said. “But when you have a good team like at UTMC, they reassure you and they treat me like family.”

Since her second treatment, Smith’s doctors no longer can detect the tumor in her back, and she continues to hope for a good response.