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Retired Memphis dentist credits VUMC Clinical trial with saving his life

"There were numerous tumors growing inside the bladder, no symptoms otherwise,” said Dr. Irv Cherny.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A retired Memphis dentist prevailed in the fight of his life after being diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Part of his victorious fight is due to a clinical trial and the Biden Administration. The administration is making cancer treatment and research a priority. They are accomplishing that goal by focusing on supporting and providing resources for more clinical trials.

Family means the world to Dr. Irv Cherny.

He takes pride in being a retired dentist, husband, brother, father, and grandfather. It’s these roles that got him through one of his biggest battles yet.

“This all started about in 2016... I was in that Germantown half marathon and after I finished the race came home, I noticed some blood in my urine,” said Dr. Cherny.

He thought it was a side effect from all the running until it happened again and again that same year.

“Thanksgiving Day. I woke up that morning, as usual, but I couldn't void. I couldn't go, couldn't pass urine that day for whatever reason,” said Dr. Cherny.

He was admitted to the hospital. Shortly after tests, a urologist found troubling symptoms.

“He said I think you have some tumors in your bladder,” said Dr. Cherny.

He immediately had surgery to remove the tumors.

“The next morning he came or that evening came back and said, ‘I'm afraid to tell you. You have cancer of the bladder.’ There were numerous tumors growing inside the bladder, no symptoms otherwise,” said Dr. Cherny. “The word Cancer is probably the scariest word that anybody can hear about a medical condition and the anxiety that it created.”

No matter the treatment, surgeries, or medications, the tumors kept coming back.

“The worst thing to me at that point was to lose my bladder,” said Dr. Cherny.

One of Dr. Cherny’s dental patients told him about Dr. Sam Chang at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and his clinical trials.

“The real issue for these patients is the recommendation for these patients is actually to have their bladder removed, which is a very big operation - changes the quality of life - is a complicated operation,” said Dr. Sam Chang, VUMC Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Urologic Surgery and Chief Surgical Officer of Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center.

It is so complicated, the average hospital in the United States does about one bladder removal a year.

Luckily for Dr. Cherny, Dr. Chang and his nurse Bree Duncan got him enrolled in their clinical bladder cancer trial.

“This is a trial that uses a medication, a combination of actually treatments that are put into the bladder to help treat the cancer,” said Dr. Chang. “By putting the medicine into the bladder, the bladder actually pumps up its own immune system to fight the cancer within the bladder.”

Dr. Chang used a blue light cystoscopy to locate even the smallest of tumors, remove them, and gave Dr. Cherny the medication combination.

“I probably had 10, eight to 10 to 12 surgeries over all these years. But over the past two years to an almost two and a half years, no surgeries, because the drug began to work,” said Dr. Cherny.

He is now tumor-free.

“You get to see him with his family and hear all the stories that he gets to, like, keep living his life,” said Duncan, Researcher Specialist at Vanderbilt Urology.

That is the ultimate reward for Dr. Cherny.

“Family is the best thing there is, yeah, there's nothing better nothing can replace that,” said Dr. Cherny.

Credit: Dr. Ivy Cherny

Dr. Chang said it Dr. Cherny’s bravery and the bravery of others in clinical trials that help advance medical research.

“We've made progress in diagnosis, and evaluation, and treatment, in follow up and surveillance. Everybody's incredibly indebted to them. And the fact that we're making a difference really makes us makes it easy for us to come to work every day,” said Dr. Chang.