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Cleveland woman sets aside cancer pain to attend granddaughter's long-awaited graduation

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Barbara Malone wanted to stay alive long enough to attend her oldest granddaughter's graduation.

Diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer in 2008, Malone wasn't sure her wish would be realized.

On Thursday, her determination paid off.

The 62-year-old resident of Cleveland's Mount Pleasant neighborhood watched Kiara Brown and 82 other students graduate from the Cleveland School of the Arts.

"It's a big, big deal," Kiara, 18, said about her grandmother's presence. "She's trying to be strong. I can tell when she's tired.

"If she wasn't going to be here, I wouldn't feel like graduating," she said.

Malone said she wasn't sure if she would be able to set aside her pain.

"I didn't think I would make it today . . . I've been praying all day long," she said, shortly after walking into Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University, on the arm of her son Louis Malone Jr.,

Malone beamed as Kiara's family watched her go down the aisle to take her place on the stage with the Class of 2013.

The desire to be in the audience for Kiara's commencement propelled Malone through seven months of a Phase 1 cancer clinical trial at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center.

The stories of Malone and eight other clinical trial patients were documented in the five-day Plain Dealer series, "Clues to Cancer," which began April 28.

Malone had received treatment at MetroHealth Medical Center for her cancer until early 2012, when her oncologist referred her to UH Seidman for a Phase 1 study. Starting in May, she took a drug developed by a pharmaceutical company along with chemotherapy. Last December, a CT scan showed that the cancer had begun to grow again after being dormant for six months.

Doctors took Malone off the study.

For more than 30 years, Malone worked as a Patient Service employee at MetroHealth until she retired within a year of her cancer diagnosis. It was there where she returned to her original oncologist following the clinical trial. At his suggestion, Malone began taking a new drug for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer.

The hope was that the drug would slow the progression of Malone's disease. But after three months, she stopped taking it when it became evident that the drug was not having any effect.

Until now, Malone has resisted hospice care. That will probably change soon, she said. But those concerns weren't her priority Thursday night. Rather, it was Kiara, waving to her family from the stage as she strode to accept her diploma.

Clapping vigorously, Malone's face radiated with pride. Just a few hours before, she had finally decided she could muster enough energy for her granddaughter's big day.

"I didn't want to disappoint her," she said.

Surrounded by a crowd of people in the lobby, the two women found each other. As other relatives held roses and cards for her, Kiara -- tears flowing down her cheeks -- embraced her grandmother.

Malone was tired, very tired. But she was happy.