Cervical Cancer Clinical Trial

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Leonila Vega knew she was very sick. Living in Manhattan at the time, she hoped she could get answers quickly. A subsequent doctor examination revealed an enlarged uterus and the need for a biopsy. However, when Leonila tried to make an appointment, she found out it would be at least a month before she could be seen. The pain was too unbearable to wait that long.

Born and raised in Mexico, Leonila moved to the U.S. and put herself through college where she attended the University of California-Irvine. She then earned her law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From her time at UW, Leonila still had a residence in the state and made a call to Aurora to get a biopsy. They were able to get her in the following week. Even though she bought a one-way ticket to Wisconsin, she still never anticipated the words, “You have cancer.”

The first thoughts in her mind were, “I’m too young to have cancer! I’m too young to die!”

Leonila was diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and her lungs. Ali Mahdavi, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at the Aurora Women’s Pavilion at the Aurora Medical Center in West Allis, diagnosed Leonila. “A CT scan of her abdomen, pelvis and chest showed she had extensive disease with multiple lesions in the lungs - too many to count.”

Because of the aggressive nature of Leonila’s cancer and her young age, Dr. Mahdavi suggested to Leonila she enroll in a phase 3 clinical trial currently open at Aurora specifically for Stage 4 cervical cancer patients.

Her response was remarkable.

When Leonila first came to Aurora, she was bound to a wheelchair. Not long after the trial began, she was up and walking around. The violent coughing fits Leonila was experiencing due to the lesion on her lungs was completely resolved, her appetite significantly improved and she gained weight.

“Much credit goes to Leonila. Her attitude has been very optimistic and very compliant with the clinical trial’s regimen,” added Dr. Mahdavi.

Cervical cancer clinical trial patient and doctor

Brad, Dr. Mahdavi, and Leonila

Another big part of Leonila’s road to recovery was her partner, Brad. He’s taken care of Leonila since coming to Wisconsin from Manhattan. Brad has been her home-based caregiver and Leonila is very grateful for him. “He’s been my salvation. I couldn’t do it without him.”

With the trial well under way and her response very encouraging, Leonila contacted her friends and colleagues back in New York and told them she was receiving care in Wisconsin. “There’s a misunderstanding that everything is the best in New York,” says Leonila. “They said, ‘Wisconsin? What are you doing in Wisconsin? You should be here in New York!’” Leonila told them she had a house in Wisconsin, her support system was in Wisconsin and she has faith in her doctors here in Wisconsin. “The people at Aurora have been unbelievably amazing.”

Brad agrees, “They treat Leonila like an individual. They know both of us by name and they can joke with us. We feel like a part of the family here.”

Even though Leonila and Brad know this is a clinical trial, they can’t deny her amazing health turnaround. “I was at Death’s Door, I believe, when I came to Aurora.” The trial has also given her hope for recovery. “I think about all the things I’ve always wanted to do and I’d like a chance to do all those things.”

Her vast improvement has also allowed her to think past her cancer. “After this I just want to go to a sunny place and relax.” Brad and Leonila have also been talking about a trip to Paris.

The Aurora caregivers who have cared for Leonila mean so much to her. She and Brad both know her treatment at Aurora has been exemplary and they credit those caregivers for her recovery so far.

“There are magical things happening here at Aurora…really magical.”

To see more of Leonila’s story including more from her physician, Dr. Ali Mahdavi, watch the 7-part video series.