One morning in 2006, former Airforce Aircraft Maintenance Technician, Gerry, was enjoying breakfast with his wife and kids. His daughter happened to notice an odd mark on his shoulder and insisted he get it checked….
Gerry had already been making skin check-ups and was very careful outdoors. That’s why he never expected the diagnosis that came shortly after that family breakfast – level 4 metastatic melanoma. Yet still, he considered himself fortunate…
“It was really good luck that my daughter noticed when she did because it wouldn’t have needed much more time to become unstoppable. I thank my lucky stars and give my daughter a kiss whenever I can. She gave me a fighting chance.”
Within a month from diagnosis, Gerry was in for surgery and it seemed the tumour had been successfully removed. It wasn’t long, however, until he was back in the doctor’s office being told another melanoma had been discovered. For 11 years, melanoma attacked Gerry’s body hard and often.
Sadly, Gerry’s case is just one of a growing multitude. The Australian Government estimates there will be 14,320 new melanoma cases diagnosed this year – contributing to a total of 138,321 new cancer cases.
Last year, the melanoma was spreading rapidly and Gerry was having bad reactions in his liver and blood to the treatment available. It seemed as though the options had been exhausted. His prognosis was measured in months with a terminal end.
Earlier this year Gerry was offered an unexpected opportunity. He was referred to a doctor who offered him consideration to determine if he was eligible for an ongoing clinical trial conducted by the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF). Until that point, Gerry had never given much thought to clinical trials…
“When I thought of clinical trials, I just thought of the ‘human guinea pig’, but when I was given sufficient written data I realised it is 100% opposite of what I presumed. I find it exciting to be on this trial. To find something that has the potential to change the whole aspect of things is truly wonderful.”
By their very nature, clinical trials are experimental and offer no guarantees. Gerry’s trial is still in the early stages, however there in an indication at this moment that the treatment is decreasing the size of his cancer. While he hopes for a positive outcome for himself, he knows this trial has the potential to have a much broader impact…
“The real potential of the trial, in my mind, is for the future. I am 68 years old now. The benefit I receive may be relatively short-lived because of my age. If I get to 78 I think that’s not a bad innings. The younger ones, the three or five year olds like my grandkids, are the ones who will really benefit from this research.”
This is the incredible value of clinical trials. Gerry is only on this trial because of medical research which was progressed to the point of testing in a clinical setting.
The GMRF Liver Cancer Unit is committed to research that targets cancer on multiple fronts. Right now, our researchers are developing methods of targeting treatment-resistant cancer stem cells (the cells responsible for tumour recurrence) and reengaging the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Find out more about our cancer research.
Though cancer continues to impact Gerry’s life, and the lives of so many others, there is hope in each step forward we take together in medical discovery.