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From Experimental To The Standard: A Local Cancer Survivor Was The First Child To Receive A Now Common Therapy

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- At 16, Casey Neff is enjoying life to the fullest.

She loves to hang out with her friends, she likes school and plays sports.

"I coach basketball, sometimes volleyball, and I play softball," said Neff.

But when she was just a baby, Casey's grandmother noticed a small lump on her neck. After a series of tests, doctors delivered the news.

It was cancer.

Casey had high-risk neuroblastoma.

"At the time Casey was diagnosed, it was less than a 40% chance of survival," says oncologist Dr. Jean Tersak of UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

For the next year and a half, Casey had several rounds of chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumor, a stem cell transplant and radiation to kill any remaining tumor cells.

"It was devastating to all of us," recalls Casey's mother, Cindy Neff.

And then the family was asked to be part of a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of an experimental new antibody therapy with the hopes that it would increase Casey's chance of survival.

Casey was the first child to be part of the clinical trial at UPMC Children's Hospital.

It worked so well, antibody therapy is now standard.

It's been 12 years now since Casey completed her clinical trial.

Today, Casey appears to be the picture of health, active in her school and church. She is also now a member of the Children's Hospital Cancer Survivorship Clinic and comes back for yearly checkups.

"Coming in every year, I get to hear more things and meet more of the dcotors that I don't remember that helped with everything I went through. It's nice to meet them now," says Casey.

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