U A B C O M P R E H E N S I V E C A N C E R C E N T E R 9

survivor profile

ed—but that UAB could do it too, and that I

should go home and have it done there.”

Ms. McCord came to the UAB Bone

Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit in 2003 for

an autologous transplant, in which her own

stem cells were removed and then returned to

her body after treatment. She describes the

experience as “intense, but everyone there was

wonderful. I thank God for the doctors and

nurses in the BMT unit and what they do to

save people’s lives.”

A MIRACLE DRUG After her successful transplant, life

for Ms. McCord returned to normal. She

became involved in the cancer community,

volunteering in the Patient Resource Library

at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Having regained her passion for athletic

activities, she ran a half-marathon for the

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2008.

In 2009, life changed again, this time

beginning with a nagging, persistent cough.

When she’d become so sick that she was

unable to swallow, she returned to her doc-

tor once again. A two-week hospital stay and

extensive testing confirmed that the cancer

had returned.

The tumor’s location eliminated surgery

as an option. This brought Ms. McCord

back to the BMT unit at UAB for another

bone marrow transplant—but this time, they

would be unable to use her stem cells. She

would have to endure the often lengthy and

arduous process of finding a viable bone mar-

row donor.

Ms. McCord did have one other option,

however. Cancer Center senior scientist and

hematologist-oncologist Andres Forero,

M.D., was leading a clinical trial involving a

Hodgkin’s lymphoma drug known as SGN-

35. “The thought that there was something

very promising other than another bone mar-

row transplant was wonderful,” Ms. McCord

says. “It sounded like a miracle.”

Before committing to the trial, Ms.

McCord met with Sabrina Gilreath, another

of Dr. Forero’s patients with Hodgkin’s lym-

phoma who was participating in the trial

and the first patient in the United States to

receive SGN-35. Mrs. Gilreath talked with

Ms. McCord about the effects of the trial on

her cancer and on her life, and she encour-

aged Ms. McCord to participate if she met

the eligibility requirements.

Ms. McCord qualified, and the results

were immediate. “I had my first CAT scan

just a few weeks into treatment, and there

was already a 54-percent improvement,” she

says. “After three months, I was in complete

remission. UAB had saved my life—again.”

COUNTING HER BLESSINGS Today, Ms. McCord continues to return to

the Cancer Center every 12 weeks for follow-

up scans as part of the trial. She also receives

post-cancer care through the UAB Supportive

Care and Survivorship Clinic (see story on

page 7), under Cancer Center associate scien-

tist Elizabeth Kvale, M.D., to attend to her

personal and emotional health after her decade

of treatment. “She specializes in ‘leftover’

issues related to the treatment, rather than the

cancer itself,” Ms. McCord says. “It’s comfort

care for those who remain well and for those

like me who want to make the best possible

future with their ‘new normal’ condition.”

Ms. McCord’s “new normal” includes

gardening, traveling and quality time with

her husband of 10 years, Brian Shaw, whom

she credits with greatly helping her during

her cancer treatment. “Brian has the greatest

sense of humor, and he just takes everything

in stride,” she says. “I’m very blessed and for-

tunate to have ‘Saint Brian’ in my life.”

Ms. McCord plans to write a book about

her experience. “I want to write about this

life-changing journey—the people you meet,

the emotions and the change in perspective,”

she says. “The human body is miraculously

resilient, and we don’t even think about all

it does until we get sick and are focused on

recovery. It’s humbling to realize that.”

Ms. McCord considers it a blessing that

she was able to participate in the clinical trial

that saved her life. She’s quick to recommend

such studies to others. “I’d do it again in a

minute, because I know I might not be here

today if not for that trial,” she says.

She also credits cancer with bringing a

sense of patience and clarity to her life. “I’ve

become calm about things and learned that

fear is the enemy,” she says. “I’ve learned

how important it is to be there for people

when they need you, like so many were for

me when I was going through treatment. It’s

a gift to be able to spend time with people.

When I count my blessings, I think what a

gift it is to be alive.”



UNTIL WE GET SICK.” – Mary Grace McCord