Hannelore Lentz had spent years working hard on her farm just outside of Medicine Hat. So when she moved to the city and started feeling run down, she thought something might be wrong.
Reluctantly, she visited her family doctor and she soon heard the shocking diagnosis. She had breast cancer. After undergoing a lumpectomy for Stage 2 breast cancer, Hannelore learned about an opportunity to be the first to participate in a clinical trial at the Margery E. Yuill Cancer Centre for two new breast cancer drugs. Medical Director Dr. Marc Trudeau runs the clinical trials program in Medicine Hat and would be leading this study, investigating the success of Herceptin and Avastin to be administered intravenously in conjunction with traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Clinical trials are research studies that evaluate the effectiveness of the methods used to prevent, diagnose, treat, or manage a disease. They provide researchers like Dr. Trudeau valuable information on new treatments that could become standard and offer patients a chance for a cure or improvement in quality of life — often when there are no other options left. Cancer clinical trials benefit all Albertans, not just those who undergo trials, as they expand medical knowledge for those facing cancer today, for those lost to cancer, and for generations to come.
Alberta Cancer Foundation donors fund the Alberta Cancer Clinical Research Unit, which supports 2,000 Albertans like Hannelore who are currently participating in more than 200 clinical trials around the province, spanning all cancer types. In fact, Alberta leads Canada in clinical trial participation with 11 percent of new cancer patients taking part in a trial compared to the national average of seven percent.
Recently, access to full-time clinical trials in Medicine Hat and surrounding areas has been made possible thanks to generous donations to the Alberta Cancer Foundation from the Yuill and Berkhold families. The donations also honour the life of community advocate Margery E. Yuill through the renaming of the centre. Four to six clinical trials can now be offered at a time in the Margery E.Yuill Cancer Centre in Medicine Hat, adding 20 to 30 new patients each year, and will focus on Alberta’s most common cancers: breast, lung, prostate, and gastrointestinal.
"This is the chance of a lifetime. It will mean the people of Medicine Hat and surrounding areas will have access, through clinical trials, to cancer-fighting drugs they would not normally get access to. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity," says Dr. Trudeau, who comes with 16 years of experience overseeing clinical trials at the McGill Cancer Centre in Montreal.
When Hannelore learned she had the opportunity to participate in a trial that may increase her chances of preventing a recurrence, she talked to her family before committing. Having her family's full support, Hannelore signed up for the trial.
With two daughters and four granddaughters, Hannelore reasoned that she had nothing to lose by participating in the clinical trial that could promise progress for the women in her life. "I had way more to gain since I would be helping others down the road even if the drugs weren't successful for me. You just have to stay positive," says Hannelore.
Although the drugs had some side effects, Hannelore is still confident about her decision to participate in the trial. "It was all worth it because I'm still here today, cancer-free. I feel great with more energy than ever before and I definitely have no regrets."
Hannelore still checks in with Dr. Trudeau every three to four months and will take Arimidex for five years. Currently, Hannelore fills her days with Aquacise, walking, travelling, and babysitting her grandchildren. Although she has always made the most of her days, Hannelore realizes she may have taken some things for granted and has made healthier lifestyle changes to reflect her outlook on the future.
"I think that everybody should go into a trial to figure out which drug works and which doesn't. Testing these drugs on humans under actual cancer conditions is the only way we'll stop cancer from going further," says Hannelore.