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Clinical Trial Gives Family the Gift of Time

“When we know that time is short, we enjoy each day a little bit more,” says Patricia DeHart, remembering her father’s last year of life. Following a diagnosis of an aggressive head and neck cancer, Robert Maro, MD ’56, was given three months to live. But thanks to a clinical trial at Jefferson, he was able to spend an entire year enjoying each day to the fullest.

“Just having my dad around that extra year allowed the young grandchildren to get to know him better,” says Pat, a certified diabetes educator from Moorestown, New Jersey. “He was able to attend the weddings of two of his grandchildren, to go on vacation, go out to dinner with my mom twice a week, and to arrange for closure.”

Maro, who for 50 years practiced family medicine in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was first diagnosed with parotid cancer—the most common type of salivary gland cancer— in 2012. After surgery at a hospital near his home, doctors kept a close watch on it. When the cancer recurred in 2016, he was told he had only three months to live. A clinical trial was the only hope to extend his life.

“My dad was a very proud graduate of Thomas Jefferson Medical College, class of 1956, so he wanted to come back and be treated here,” says Pat, a graduate of the Jefferson College of Nursing. After reading about pioneering head and neck cancer clinical trials, Maro sought out Joseph M. Curry, MD, in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.

Pat says her father was “blessed” to be able to participate in the clinical trial, as it not only extended his life, but gave him excellent quality of life. There were no negative side effects—he felt healthy and was able to travel and enjoy his time with his family.

As the year came to an end, the clinical oncologist determined the trial was no longer helping to keep the tumors in check, and Maro’s time was growing short.

“The Jefferson team was really great at gently explaining to my dad that there was no more benefit in continuing the trial,” Pat says. “We were excited at the beginning of the clinical trial, but ending the clinical trial also had a benefit in his life too, in that he was able to have a lot of closure. My dad was able to put his finances in order, to call his family and friends together, to say his goodbyes. That was important to us as a family.” Maro passed away on December 22, 2017, at the age of 87.

Aside from extending his life, Pat says there were other reasons the family chose to support Maro in participating in the clinical trial.

“My dad was a physician, my brother’s a physician, I’m a nurse, my sister’s a nurse—we’re clinical people, and we believe that this trial really helped the physicians to learn a lot about how to treat this particular type of aggressive parotid tumor. We are grateful that it happened at his beloved institution—Jefferson.”

Pat encourages people to offer financial support for clinical trials, noting that funding is often hard to find. When individuals make contributions, it helps the investigators to hire staff, collect data, form information on outcomes, and improve the lives of people like her father, she says.

“The clinical trial allowed us to spend an extra year with our dad that we wouldn’t have had,” Pat says. “And that meant everything to us.”