Thirty years after Cheryl Reinhardt’s mother passed away from her battle with ovarian cancer, she was handed the same diagnosis: stage IV ovarian cancer. She had been experiencing abdominal pain while sleeping on her stomach and rushed to the emergency room one night after the pain became unbearable. When the doctor finally came in with an answer, she could tell it wasn’t good news.
Unable to accept the doctor’s negative prognosis, Reinhardt sought out a second opinion from Dr. Kunle Odunsi, Chair of Roswell Park’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology and a co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program.
“My attitude immediately changed when I came to Roswell Park,” said Cheryl. “When I first met Dr. Odunsi, he told me, ‘I know what to do,’ and even though I wasn’t sure what would happen, I could sense that I was in good hands.”
Reinhart first received the standard treatment for stage IV ovarian cancer: surgery to remove the ovarian tumor followed by chemo, and spent eight years in remission. But at a checkup, the doctors found another tumor.
“I went outside and pulled out every weed in the front of the house because I was so angry,” she said. “I mustered up everything I could, and I told myself, if you got through it the first time, you can do it a second time.”
After a few more rounds of chemotherapy, Dr. Odunsi asked Cheryl if she would be willing to participate in a clinical trial for a new, groundbreaking treatment that had been developed by Roswell Park scientists with critical support from The Ride For Roswell donors. This treatment— an ovarian cancer vaccine — works by stimulating the immune system to fight the cancer. Having already experienced the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy and feeling hopeful for a promising alternative treatment, Cheryl agreed to join the trial.
This ovarian cancer vaccine, although promising, still requires additional testing and analysis. In 2013, Roswell Park received a prestigious, highly competitive award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to conduct further research on new therapies that use the immune system in the fight against ovarian cancer. Although the grant from the NCI covers the majority of the cost of the five-year initiative, the project does require additional funding from Roswell Park — and that’s where you have stepped in. Funds raised through The Ride are making it possible for RPCI scientists to continue their work on this promising initiative.
The research involves three groundbreaking projects evaluating next-generation immunotherapies. Each project is driven by a Phase I/II clinical trial testing efficacy and patient outcomes from the immunotherapies developed by Dr. Odunsi and his team in Roswell Park’s Center for Immunotherapy.
“The NCI has recognized that our research has very high potential for changing the lives of ovarian cancer patients around the world,” said Dr. Odunsi. “This research is a combination of all the understandings we have built for more than a decade, and we expect we will be able to be able to improve outcomes of patients who are battling this devastating disease. It is thanks to our supporters and donors that we have been able to progress this far.”
Today, 13 years after her initial diagnosis, Cheryl Reinhardt is back in remission and doing well. “I didn’t expect to live for five years, and according to the statistics, I shouldn’t be here,” said Cheryl. “But I am, and I really believe it’s because of the new treatments I was able to receive. Now I don’t take anything for granted.”
Cheryl has found a way to give back to Dr. Odunsi and Roswell Park by riding in The Ride For Roswell and also serves on a number of Ride volunteer committees. Come this June 24, you will find this survivor and Extra Mile Club member taking on the inaugural 14-mile RosRoll.
**Dr. Odusni’s work was recently profiled in Genome Magazine. You can read the article here: http://genomemag.com/cancer-vaccines/#.WPZuY2nytph