- By Dana Sparks
Helping Others Heal: A mother’s milestone
It's been five years since Stacy Erholtz's original virotherapy treatment. Her nickname in support groups is 'The Measles Lady.'
Last summer, the oldest of her three children was married. "I never, never in my wildest dreams, thought I would be able to participate in that beautiful, joyful event," Stacy says as she wipes away tears that come easily whenever she talks about the wedding of her daughter Claire. Many happy milestones have passed for a mother diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, who once had hoped to just live long enough to see her oldest graduate from high school. Now she has seen Claire get married, become a high school teacher after graduating from college, and adopt a sweet chocolate Labrador, affectionately called "the granddog." Her middle child, Eleanor, is engaged to be married and will graduate from college as a nurse in May, inspired after shadowing nurses at several of her mother's appointments. Her youngest, Oliver, is in college and thriving. "I never lived with, 'Oh gee, I'm going to get robbed of experiencing this,'" she says. "It was more like — it would be really cool if I could see this happen. And I think I'm probably going to see many more exciting events."
Over four years ago, Stacy's treatment in a clinical trial using the measles virus against multiple myeloma was a transformational event in cancer research. The trial was Stacy's last option, having endured many other treatments over a decadelong battle. The results were immediate. The measles virus destroyed her cancer, without affecting the healthy cells of the body, within seven weeks. Stacy is the first person to go into complete remission after having cancer spread throughout her body. But, there was more to the story. While touring the laboratory of her physician, Stephen J. Russell, M.D., Ph.D., a couple of months after the measles virus treatment, she saw a plaque honoring Al and Mary Agnes McQuinn. The McQuinns made Dr. Russell's research with the measles virus possible through financial support and are recognized by Mayo Clinic as Philanthropic Partners. These were also the same McQuinns whose paths had crossed many times with Stacy and her family in their community in northern Minnesota. She reached out to them, and the two families reconnected. "The chance of that happening, I just say, well, it must have been divine providence. I don't know what else," Mary Agnes says. "God works in an amazing way," Stacy says.
"The beauty of the story is remarkable. It really is." The families stay in touch via social media and occasionally in person when they are visiting Mayo Clinic at the same time. Mary Agnes and Al, who raised four children of their own, are grateful that Stacy has been able to see so many family milestones. "I just thank God every day she had these extra years and that so far, so good," Mary Agnes says. "She may have more. That's in Mayo's and God's hands. We are delighted that her life with those children was lengthened by this very wonderful little miracle that happened. It's very gratifying to both Al and me." Read the rest of Stacy's story.