Mary Elizabeth's Story
For Mary Elizabeth Williams, a New York-based writer and mother of two, the hardest part of having stage 4 melanoma was imagining what her family would do without her. Her spouse, and her daughters, then age 7 and 11—how would they cope with the loss?
In late 2011, that thought loomed in Mary Elizabeth’s mind as she prepared to begin conventional treatment for what all medical sources told her was a terminal illness. Then, at the last minute, she learned she was eligible for clinical trial of a promising new immunotherapy being conducted by Jedd Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The trial was a study of two checkpoint inhibitor drugs, ipilimumab and nivolumab (made by Bristol Myers-Squibb), for patients with metastatic melanoma. Both drugs are antibodies directed at specific “braking” molecules, called checkpoints, on immune cells. By “taking the brakes off” the immune response, the drugs enable a more powerful anti-cancer response.
Mary Elizabeth began treatment with the two immunotherapy drugs in November 2011. By January 2012, she knew the treatment was working. As a staff writer for Salon.com, she chronicled her cancer journey in series of articles.
UPDATE, September 2019: Mary Elizabeth Williams remains cancer-free and spoke at the CRI Immunotherapy Patient Summit in New York City on September 7, 2019.