Millions of dollars are raised every year for cancer research and much of it is spent right here in Calgary, funding clinical trials which can provide some hope to patients fighting an often hopeless disease.“I was told I would be able to live with it for a very long time unless it went crazy,” said Sharon Neufeld, who was diagnosed with Leukemia. “I got progressively sicker; my earrings sat on my lymph nodes, I was exhausted all the time, difficult time with food.”
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Then her doctor told her that she qualified for a clinical trial with a new experimental drug.“He said, ‘on the one hand you have this horrible thing going on, here is a large bucket full of hope,’” she said.Neufeld went in with very low expectations, but after just three weeks, noticed astounding results while working in her garden.“I wasn’t tired after that first square foot, so I began digging another and another, until the whole darn garden was dug out. I went in and I wasn’t exhausted. It took me over a week to think ‘wait a minute, maybe this is the drug,” she said, laughing. “All of a sudden I was in the middle of having a life. It was quite astonishing.”As many as 120 clinical trials are done at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre every year, involving 550 patients. The goal is to offer the trials to as many as 1,000 patients per year.“Every treatment that we offer to patients currently is based on clinical trials that have been done in the last 20 years,” said Dr. Gwyn Bebb, director of Clinical Trials Unit at the centre. “None of the treatment options we have today would have been possible without investigators, pharmaceutical companies, patients to tell us that these treatments are better than the ones we had before.”But not everyone sees results like Neufeld’s; in fact, in the majority of clinical trials, the experimental treatment is not found to be better.“Yes, it is frustrating and sometimes disheartening to see all this effort going into improving outcomes and not being successful very quickly,” Bebb said.Despite low success rates, researchers charge ahead.“They offer hope now for patients that they might get lucky in a way and for patients who come after them, I think that’s important,” Bebb said.Neufeld said she feels like the poster girl for clinical trials. While not everyone will be as lucky, she said it’s worth it to at least volunteer and try.“I would probably qualify as being in total remission,” she said, laughing. “I just love saying that.”May 20 is recognized as international clinical trials day, commemorating the date that surgeon James Lind began his trials into the causes of Scurvy back in 1747.