Paula Ebrington

When Paula Ebrington was diagnosed with Stage 4C melanoma in her spleen, she wrote a list of her children’s milestones that she didn’t want to miss and used this as motivation to get through treatment. The 50-year-old mother of two participated in a clinical trial to treat her cancer and shares her gratitude as she witnesses each of those milestones happen.

When Paula had a rash on her legs and constant pain in her side, she saw multiple GPs over the course of six months before extensive testing found she had metastatic melanoma.

“I was told I had cancer in my spleen, lung and peritoneum and it was melanoma. I didn’t know you could have melanoma without it beginning on your skin; but certainly, you can,” said Paula.

“When I was diagnosed, my doctors basically said, ‘we’re not touching your spleen; you need to go and see Professor Victoria Atkinson and look at treatment options, because removing your spleen isn’t the best option’.”

“Professor Atkinson then went through the stages of cancer with me, and being stage 4C, it was pretty dire. I was basically one stage away from dying.”

Under Professor Atkinson’s care at Greenslopes Private Hospital, Paula was given two options for treatment: a drug that was already available or participate in a clinical trial for a new drug through Gallipoli Medical Research’s Clinical Trials Unit.

“Professor Atkinson said that based on everything we know, the clinical trial was my best shot. I remember being terrified; all the unknowns about a clinical trial, for a control freak like me, were really hard. But I sat with my kids and my husband, and I knew I needed to give myself the best shot I could, to see them grow up.”

As a mother of two boys, Paula’s focus was on her young family. She wrote out a list of the things she didn’t want to miss and used this as motivation throughout her clinical trial.

“The list was mainly to do with my kids. I want to see my boys turn 21, have their first girlfriends, I want to see them drive. It’s the milestone moments, but also the everyday moments, those conversations I have with my kids each afternoon,” said Paula.

“And that was the thing that spurred me on when I was scared about something; I’d go to that list and say, ‘I want to be there’.”

Paula’s clinical trial experience was challenging. She experienced many side effects very early on, and has ceased her monthly treatment two-and-a-half years later. But she considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“I had a 50-50 shot of this clinical trial working for me, the flip of a coin. But I had an incredible response, immediately, to the first treatment; scans showed a huge decrease in the tumour. So, we were hopeful that I was going to be one of the lucky ones,” said Paula.

The immunotherapy treatment has now been deemed safe and was made available Australia-wide through the PBS on 1 February 2024, thanks to the clinical trial Paula is still a part of.

Nivolumab and Relatimab (Opdulag) is reimbursed for untreated metastatic melanoma as of 1 February 2024. The combination immunotherapy represents another treatment option available for Australian patients with metastatic melanoma.

“Given our high incidence of melanoma in Australia it is excellent that our patients have another immunotherapy option to try and improve survival outcomes,” said Professor Atkinson.

Paula has no doubt this treatment will saves lives around the world and is ecstatic it is now accessible, because it’s given her the chance to see her boys grow.

“That opportunity is now available for everyone,” said Paula.

“It’s incredible to see such positive results come out of these clinical trials; they’re making strong progress towards finding a cure to this horrible, horrible disease. Research is the way forward.”

“I can’t possibly express my gratitude to my incredible doctor, Victoria, and to Gallipoli Medical Research. How do you say ‘thank you’ for saving my life?”

Sadly, not all clinical trials are as successful and not every participant responds well to the trial treatment like Paula did. Our trials are coordinated in partnership with Greenslopes Private Hospital, Ramsay Pharmacy and the Cyril Gilbert Cancer Centre.