Encouraging new drug helps Northwest Indiana woman with relapsed ovarian cancer

Laura Furmanek

After she was diagnosed with a HER2-positive ovarian cancer in June 2020, Laura Furmanek’s life became a roller coaster ride.

Ovarian cancer was an unexpected diagnosis for the young, healthy woman from Munster, Indiana. She had no family history of cancer. She learned about her condition after seeking medical care for swollen ankles and a protruding stomach.

Tests found cancer not only in her ovaries but in her belly button and around her body.

The 39-year-old’s treatment began with a seven-hour hysterectomy and tumor removal surgery at Community Hospital in Munster, done by University of Chicago Medicine gynecologic oncologist John Moroney, MD (who performs surgeries at Community and sees patients at UChicago Medicine’s Orland Park and Hyde Park locations).

Furmanek then had six rounds of chemotherapy with a local medical oncologist. By December 2020, things were looking up. Her cancer was in remission. Her hair, which she lost during chemotherapy, began to grow back. She was preparing to resume her life and career in hotel sales.

Four months later, Furmanek noticed a growth and unusual leakage by her belly button. A biopsy confirmed the cancer was back.

“I said, ‘But we did chemotherapy! We did surgery! I am feeling great!’ I was just devastated,” Furmanek said.

To get the cancer under control again, Moroney began her on a series of different chemotherapy regimens at UChicago Medicine in Orland Park. They included standard regimens as well as a clinical trial. Each initially slowed the growth of Furmanek's tumors, but then her cancer would resist treatment and grow again, prompting the need to try a new option.

This cycle was due to Furmanek's ovarian cancer evolving biologically and becoming increasingly chemotherapy-resistant, Moroney said.

In early 2022, Moroney fought to get the now-41-year-old Furmanek into a small clinical trial involving a HER2-targeting cancer drug. Only a few dozen people are enrolled in this trial nationwide. HER2 targeting is well-established as an effective treatment for breast, esophageal and some other cancers.

When it comes to clinical trials, we see good outcomes frequently, but Laura’s experience has been truly exceptional and feels like a home run.

However, newer, more sophisticated drug delivery platforms are in development to target HER2 in different types of cancer, including gynecologic cancers like Furmanek’s.

“It is only through clinical trials like this that new, more effective and less toxic therapies can become available for patients diagnosed with metastatic cancer,” Moroney said.

Within three months of taking this new drug, Furmanek had a tremendous response. Her CA-125 — an ovarian cancer blood tumor marker — normalized and her measurable areas of disease shrank by more than 70%. Moroney sent her messages reading, “This is amazing! This is awesome!”

“When it comes to clinical trials, we see good outcomes frequently, but Laura’s experience has been truly exceptional and feels like a home run. It's very exciting for everyone on our team,” Moroney said. “This is an early example that HER2 targeting can be effective in select patients with ovarian cancer.”

John Moroney, MD, ovarian cancer patient Laura Furmanek, of Munster, Indiana, and Christine Deskovich
John Moroney, MD, left, poses with ovarian cancer patient Laura Furmanek, of Munster, Indiana, and Christine Deskovich

HER2-targeting agents will likely benefit a minority of ovarian cancer patients, since few are HER2-positive, Moroney said. But it represents an amazing break for Furmanek. The big picture provides hope for the future use of these drugs for similar patients with gynecologic cancers.

While it is unlikely that this drug will cure Laura’s cancer, it has stabilized her condition and will significantly lengthen her life, Moroney said. His patient plans to continue this clinical trial, taking thrice-monthly intravenous doses at UChicago Medicine in Hyde Park, plus regular blood tests and scans to monitor her progress.

In August 2022, Furmanek was able to go to California with her siblings on what she calls the trip of a lifetime.

“The trip was so good for me mentally and physically. I’m so lucky to have the love and support of my family and friends throughout my journey,” she said.

Furmanek says she’s feeling really good now and just takes life day by day.

“My life is different than what I thought it would be, but it’s now going in a direction that’s great,” she said. “People always ask me, ‘When are you going to be done with treatment?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know.’ And I’m OK with that.

"Dr. Moroney and I are a great team. I have faith in him and his decisions. Life is full of choices and I choose to take it all in and enjoy it, step by step.”

John Moroney, MD

John Moroney, MD

John Moroney, MD, specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of gynecologic cancers, with a focus on providing skilled and personalized longitudinal care.

Learn more about Dr. Moroney

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