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Mother in remission grateful for Wilmot clinical trial

The Haers family

In 2010, Melanie Haers was basking in being a first-time mom.

Her daughter was just three weeks old when Melanie had a seizure, was rushed from her home in Phelps to the hospital and given terrible news.

"He just walked in and he said, 'I've got terrible news,' Melanie said. "He said, 'You have a cancerous tumor on the left side of your brain.' And the first thing I thought was, 'I just had a baby, so who is going to be her mom?'"

After surgery, chemo and radiation, Melanie qualified for a clinical trial.

"You will do as a new mother whatever you can; I didn't care what it was," Melanie said.

But she cared where it was. She thought a clinical trial meant New York City for six months. Then she found out it was offered at Wilmot Cancer Institute.

"We couldn't believe it," Melanie said. "To not have to pack up and leave my daughter. She was just too little."

Neuro-oncologist Dr Nimish Mohile and Physician's Assistant Jennifer Serventi were part of Melanie's team. Now they are writing a new clinical trial that they hope patients can use in the next few months.

"Having a drug be developed right here in our laboratories and be able to quickly kind of get our act together and figure out how we want to apply this to patients makes a big difference, " Serventi said.

The difference is time.

Often, brain cancer patients often don't have a lot of time. A Rochester-based group called "Adding Candles" knows that. Everyone in the group has a friend or family member impacted by brain cancer. They have been fundraising specifically for this latest clinical trial.

"We feel the pressure from them, but we also feel the pressure from our patients who are going through this everyday, " Dr. Mohile said. "If it's something where we feel like we don't have a lot of time and we want to do things that are the most efficient, we want to be able to start studies that are going to be affecting patients right away."

They have many business-like terms for their approach: Cutting out the middle man. Clinical trials on a budget.

Whatever you call it, this team hopes to have results in 1-2 years to then pass along to the National Institutes of Health for studies to confirm the findings.

Their current focus is gliobastoma, which is the most common type of malignant brain tumor and one of the hardest to treat.

"For glioblastoma, research has really mattered," Dr. Mohile said. "In the past decade, we have had three new drugs or devices that have been FDA approved...so the way we can treat this disease has changed so much."

Proof of that is a device called the Optune cap.

For 18 hours a day, it sends electrical energy to the tumor. It can elongate and improve a patient's life. Twenty of Wilmot Cancer Institute's patients are wearing it now.

Did the clinical trial Melanie took part in cure her brain tumor? It's too early to say for sure. However, every MRI she's had in the last six years has been clear.

"This is the most unbelievable place I have ever experienced," Melanie said, working hard to hold back tears. "It has given me hope, my life back, being a mom, I now have two children. So I love it. I absolutely love it here."

To learn more about Wilmot Cancer Institute or to donate, click here.

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