real life

Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer at 47. Her survival depends on women like Leslie.

Breast Cancer Trials
Thanks to our brand partner, Breast Cancer Trials

What would you say to the person that has participated in research that will prevent your cancer from coming back? For Lisa Bird, it’s a profound ‘thank you’.

Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 47 and was about to go on holiday to Bali when she noticed a lump on her right breast, which seemed to have come out of nowhere.

“I have had regular mammograms since turning 45 and the last one earlier in the year was clear. I was very concerned but decided to continue my plans for travelling to Bali without telling anyone, as I felt the need to process it and I secretly hoped it would shrink. I suppose upon reflection it was a bit of a head-in-the-sand reaction. I went straight to the doctor upon my return home,” Lisa said.

Breast cancer trials
Lisa on holiday in Bali before her diagnosis in 2016, and during chemotherapy in the months to come. Image: supplied.

Unfortunately, Lisa’s worst fears were realised.

“My husband was with me for every appointment after the first one while all tests were done. We did not tell anyone else until the diagnosis was confirmed," Lisa continued. "Men quite typically like to ‘fix’ everything, so feeling helpless to make this go away was a struggle for him right from the start.

“It was very difficult telling our daughters, but they showed strength and made me proud with their maturity. My mother was also hard to tell as she has lost many to cancer including my dad, so she was understandably upset. She is a worrier by nature. I had told my best friend while in Bali that I had felt something out of the norm, so she was slightly prepared. The strongest reaction was my sister-in-law who just burst into tears.”

Lisa describes the time after her diagnosis as "a whirlwind".

ADVERTISEMENT

"From the moment of confirmation, you are thrown into a deluge of appointments, treatments, medications and information. It is difficult to keep it all straight in your own mind,” Lisa said.

Lisa Bird
Lisa at a fundraising gala with her daughters in 2018. Image: supplied.

Little did Lisa know that part of her treatment was the result of clinical trials research. Clinical trials are designed to find out if new treatments or prevention strategies are more effective than those currently accepted as the best available standard treatment.

The SOFT and TEXT clinical trials produced practice-changing results in the treatment of breast cancer in premenopausal women, who may have a poorer long-term prognosis.

Younger women with breast cancer may have a poorer long-term prognosis because the hormone, oestrogen, which is produced by the ovaries before menopause, can stimulate the growth of cancer cells in patients with hormone-responsive breast cancer. If normal ovarian activity is stopped (ovarian function suppression), the production and action of oestrogen is decreased and growth of hormone-responsive breast cancer can be suppressed.

The research showed that the aromatase inhibitor, exemestane, is more effective than tamoxifen in preventing breast cancer recurrence in young women who also receive ovarian function suppression.

Leslie Gilham first heard about the TEXT clinical trial in her first appointment with her oncologist. Leslie was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46 and says the first thing that went through her mind was that she didn’t want to die.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Initially when undergoing scans I kept telling myself that it wouldn’t be anything. But when I was finally diagnosed, I was in complete shock,” Leslie said.

“My husband had been with me holding my hand the whole time during the diagnosis, but the hardest part was telling my children. They surprised me with how they took in the information and the assurance they gave me that everything would be OK. I think we underestimate our children and how strong they can be. Their support was immeasurable.”

Leslie Gilham
Leslie couldn't have done it without the support of her two children and her husband. Image: supplied.

Before that first meeting with her oncologist, Leslie had never heard of clinical trials and she was unaware of the important role they play in improving treatments and outcomes.

“I have always been someone prepared to put my hand up to participate in something," Leslie said. "The way my oncologist explained the trial process and their importance made me think about future generations, including my daughter. If there was any way that I could help improve outcomes and treatments for women and men going forward, then I was happy to go down this path."

Leslie was one of more than 2670 women worldwide who participated in the TEXT clinical trial, which was conducted in Australia and New Zealand by Breast Cancer Trials.

“The trial that was available was explained in detail and I had time to go away and discuss the trial with my family before deciding whether to participate. It was also encouraging to know that I would have additional support from my clinicians, nurse and research nurse throughout the trial. I felt like I would be part of a team making a difference,” Leslie said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Leslie, a survivor and a hero. Image: supplied.

“The improvements through clinical trials have not only benefited women with better treatments and prevention options, but they have also contributed to increased survival rates and improved quality of life.

“I’m excited to know that women today are receiving the treatment that I helped to scientifically prove is better than previous treatments, by participating in a clinical trial.”

For Lisa, the message to Leslie and other women who participated in the SOFT and TEXT clinical trials is clear.

“Thank you for making a massive difference to people like me who are following in your footsteps. Thank you for making the likelihood of a long and happy life with those I love, a reality,” Lisa said.

“This was not a chapter I imagined in my life but it is only that - one chapter. There are many more to be written without the big C in the storyline.”

Breast Cancer Trials is the largest, independent oncology clinical trials research group in Australia and New Zealand and has conducted a national clinical trials research program for the treatment, prevention and cure of breast cancer for 40 years. The research program involves almost 800 members at 101 leading medical institutions in Australia and New Zealand. More information about BCT and its research program visit www.breastcancertrials.org.au.

This content was brought to you with thanks by our brand partner, Breast Cancer Trials.

Breast Cancer Trials

Breast Cancer Trials is the largest, independent oncology clinical trials research group in Australia and New Zealand and has conducted a national clinical trials research program for the treatment, prevention and cure of breast cancer for 40 years. The research program involves almost 800 members at 101 leading medical institutions in Australia and New Zealand. More information about BCT and its research program visit www.breastcancertrials.org.au.

00:00 / ???