Hope amidst the darkness of cancer: how clinical trials bought us four more years with mum

Renee Zuks and her mother Rita. Picture: Supplied
Renee Zuks and her mother Rita. Picture: Supplied

Cancer is something you're certainly not prepared for until it hits you.

I can't explain the array of emotions that were felt when my mum, Rita, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma or, put simply, blood cancer.

How can you digest that someone you love so dearly who is so integral to your life has developed a life-threatening cancer; how can you possibly settle the feeling of trepidation in your stomach?

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy schedules were arranged.

Mum endured it all with incredible strength and resilience.

Sadly, in less than two years the cancer had returned, this time as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

More chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant were the next course of treatment.

This treatment can be brutal, and you cling to the hope that it will all be worthwhile; that this is the treatment that eradicates the cancer.

Unfortunately for us, it didn't.

I moved home to be by my mum's side for whatever was next.

More chemo. Remission. Excitement and hope. The heartbreaking inevitable return a short few weeks later. Devastation.

Then, a glimmer of hope. Professor Chan Cheah opened a trial offering a new treatment to relapsed non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients, run by Blood Cancer Research WA with the support of the Snowdome Foundation.

This first trial changed mum's life and offered a spark of hope for our family.

After all the failed treatments, mum was on one that appeared to be effective, but it was also providing her a good quality of life.

Over time, mum developed resistance to her trial treatment, but Professor Cheah always had another trial on offer.

Mum was so grateful for the treatment, compassion and care that came with it.

She moved through five clinical trials. Each one extending her life without stealing her quality of life.

The four extra years mum gained meant being here when her second grandchild Zadie was born.

Her first grandchild, Neva, was only six months old when the first trial treatment began.

Mum got to see Neva go to her first day at school.

It allowed the whole family to have many more joyous occasions together.

No words can express what those four extra years meant for me.

Clinical trials are monumental in uncovering new treatments which can extend the time a patient has with their loved ones, however less than 20 per cent of blood cancer patients participate in them.

With diagnoses increasing, clinical trials are the key to gaining a greater understanding of blood cancers and accelerating next-generation therapies, enabling patients to have more time with family and bank more memories.

This story Hope amidst the darkness of cancer: how clinical trials bought us four more years with mum first appeared on The Canberra Times.