Ovarian Cancer Survivor Shares Decision to Try Clinical Trial

By: Tori Bowlin

April 01, 2021

Shari Flamm riding her bike

While there used to be three basic treatment options for cancer -- surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, or a combination of the three -- there's a fourth option: clinical trials. Here, a Renown patient shares her successful battle with ovarian cancer, aided by a clinical trial.

Shari Flamm's battle with ovarian cancer began in 2011. She was experiencing prolonged bleeding, irregular thyroid levels and anemia and was scheduled to undergo a hysterectomy.

Before the surgery, her gynecologist ran routine tests to check for cancer as a precautionary measure. All tests were negative for cancer, expect her CA 125 test.

A CA 125 test measures the amount of the protein CA 125 (cancer antigen 125) in the blood. In some cases, a CA 125 test may be used to look for early signs of ovarian cancer in women with a very high risk of the disease. In most laboratories, the normal level is 0 to 35 units/ml. Flamm's CA 125 level was 121.

As Flamm can attest, early diagnosis played a key role in her battle with ovarian cancer. September is Gynecologic Cancer and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – an important time to learn the signs, symptoms and risk factors of this type of cancer so your doctor can diagnosis the disease as early as possible.

Ovarian Cancer: Round One

Despite the elevated CA 125 results, her doctor recommended they move forward with the hysterectomy. But when surgery began, doctors discovered a mass. She had stage 4 cancer. The procedure was halted, the mass was biopsied and she was immediately seen by Dr. Peter Lim of the The Center of Hope.

Following diagnosis, Flamm underwent surgery with Dr. Lim to remove the cancer, which had spread to part of diaphragm, spleen, colon and other organs. Three months after surgery, Flamm had recovered enough to start six rounds of chemotherapy in her hometown of Carson City. She continued working at a doctor's office during her treatment, and was grateful for Dr. Lim’s ability to co-manage her care so she could stay close to work and family.

“To me, chemo was the scariest part because I didn’t like feeling sick,” Flamm says.

Thankfully, her body responded well to the treatments and she was back to the things she loved.

“I stated working out at the gym, even if it was only for 10 minutes,” she says. She also stayed positive by spending time with her grandchildren, attending a San Jose Sharks hockey game, going for walks and enjoying concerts.

Ovarian Cancer: Round Two

In November 2014, Flamm had a cancer check-up. That’s when doctors discovered three cancerous tumors. For this round, Flamm choose another treatment option -- clinical trials at Renown Institute for Cancer.

Clinical trials are the studies that test whether drugs work, and inform doctors' decisions about how to treat their patients.

Flamm participated in a clinical trial that featured oral-targeted therapy stronger than IV chemotherapy. The hope was for the drug to shrink her tumors, however the result was stabilization -- meaning the lumps weren’t growing or spreading.

The best part of the clinical trial, Flamm says, was the constant monitoring. Between the CT scans every six weeks, a heart scan every three months and monthly doctor visits, she was confident that if the cancer started growing or spreading, her healthcare team would catch it right away.

For Flamm, the benefits of the clinical trial included less hair loss, less fatigue and more time to focus on what’s important in her life -- her family.

“I decided I wasn’t going to be that sick grandma on the couch with cancer,” Flamm says.

After taking the oral medication for one year, Flamm developed a rash and discontinued treatment due to discomfort.

Clinical Trials, Setbacks and Survival

In June 2016, two of the three tumors began to grow and had to be surgically removed. Despite the setback, Flamm was determined to maintain a positive outlook.

"You have to stay positive because cancer feeds off anger, depression and stress," Flamm says.

Flamm was released to go home with clear margins, meaning the tumors were removed and are surrounded by a rim of normal tissue that does not have cancerous cells.

Flamm says her outlook on life has changed drastically since her first cancer diagnosis.

“Your whole mentality changes when cancer disturbs your life," Flann says. "The things that weren’t important, are now ever so important. I’m a lot calmer now,” Flamm says.