Just seven weeks after she gave birth to a baby girl, Marla Avery's cancer returned.
A year earlier, Marla had lost her eye to uveal melanoma, a type of melanoma that impacts the eye. Though she'd had to have her eye removed and replaced with an artificial eye, Marla thought this was a small price to pay for survival.
But now her cancer was back, and this time it had metastasized in her liver.
"All I could think was I don't want to die. I have a beautiful life, and it took a long time to get here. I don't want to die," she says.
Marla's uveal melanoma metastasis treatment
Under the care of Wen-Jen Hwu, M.D., Ph.D., Marla enrolled in a clinical trial at MD Anderson for her uveal melanoma metastasis.
The doctors explained the treatment plan. They would perform a surgery while Marla was awake to attach a catheter to her liver that would bring the chemotherapy drugs to the cancerous regions on her liver. They knew that they could not reach one of the regions because of its location, but they planned to focus on the other two.
As Marla was wheeled in to surgery, she prayed for mercy. When she arrived in the operation room, a nurse appeared next to her and introduced herself.
"Hi, I'm Mercy," she said. As Marla shook the nurse's hand, she knew she was going to be okay.
After the surgery, Marla was told that with the help of a stent inserted during surgery, the doctors would be able to administer chemotherapy to all three regions.
Marla had to lie flat on her back while the chemo was administered for 30 minutes, then she had to lie still for another seven hours. The process was repeated once a month for the next nine months.
A third battle with uveal melanoma
Then, on Jan. 24, 2013, Marla's cancer returned a third time. This time, she only had to undergo another treatment, a radiofrequency ablation, applied on Feb. 7.
That was just 10 days before a half marathon in Austin that Marla had signed up to run. She asked Hwu if she could still compete.
"Marla, with your faith, you can do anything," Hwu told her.
Marla did not finish the race, but her team did. And since then, her faith has been propelling her to do even more. She traveled on a mission trip to Nicaragua and then to Philadelphia for the Ocular Melanoma Foundation's patient retreat. She also spoke at the AIM for a Cure Walk in the fall.
Finally in November, she made her way back to MD Anderson on her brother's birthday. Together, Marla and Hwu recorded a video birthday greeting for her brother, announcing that his sister was now cancer-free.
"It was the best present I could have given him," she says.
Melanoma is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Melanoma Moon Shot.