Clinical trials give Queensland breast cancer patients hope

When Monique Perry was diagnosed with aggressive triple-negative breast cancer she feared her family history was about to repeat itself.

Her mother had been just 53 when she died from ovarian cancer – and until she knew what her own treatment plan was going to be, Mrs Perry initially chose not to tell her own four children that she too was now fighting for her life.

But despite facing frightening odds, the 43-year-old is today cancer-free after participating in the early-phase clinical trial of a new cancer drug run by Mater Research.

Mrs Perry, of Anduramba, is telling her story to highlight the importance of breast cancer research and clinical trials as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Mater Research is currently running three clinical trials for triple-negative breast cancer patients in conjunction with the Mater Cancer Care Centre (MCCC) in South Brisbane, which provides cancer treatment for thousands of public and private patients from across Queensland each year.

Mrs Perry, who works on her family’s farm three hours west of Brisbane, believes she would not be alive today without the team at the MCCC.

“They saved my life,” she said.

“I will love all of the women at Mater Cancer Care Centre for the rest of my life.”

Mrs Perry was diagnosed with triple-negative early breast cancer, an aggressive and fast-growing cancer with a high risk of metastasis and recurrence, in 2021.

Mrs Perry, who carries the breast cancer (BRCA1) genetic variant, said that when she first felt a small lump in her breast – smaller than a pea – she brushed it off.

“Three months later, I was having a shower and realised that it had gotten bigger, so I went to the GP,” Mrs Perry said.

“Two days later, I was told it was triple-negative.”

Mrs Perry was initially treated at another hospital, before being referred to the MCCC as a Mater Research clinical trial participant.

“When my original oncologist told me about the clinical trial, I was interested in helping advance research. We need better cancer drugs for the future. I wouldn’t want my own daughters relying on old treatments if they ever get breast cancer,” Mrs Perry said.

“I always say to people, ‘don’t fear being on a clinical trial’. Cancer treatment isn’t an easy path, but when your treatment options are limited, like they were for me, giving yourself the best chance you can to recover by trying out new drugs is the best thing you can do.”

“Treatment was hard, but I’m still here and I still get to spend every day with my beautiful family.”

MCCC Medical Oncologist and cancer researcher Dr Kathryn Middleton said that clinical trial enrolment can enable patients to access novel therapeutic treatment options that may be subsequently shown to improve survival.

“Clinical trials are designed to assess the potential effectiveness and side effects of newer treatments,” Dr Middleton said.

“Mater Research currently has numerous clinical trials open and enrolls patients with different types of breast cancer at different points in their treatment journey.”

Mater Researcher and MCCC clinician Professor Phillip Good said that at Mater, clinical trials are considered a very important part of overall care of patients with cancer.

Mrs Perry was enrolled into the trial, went through six grueling months of chemotherapy, immunotherapy and then a full mastectomy. She has continued to have follow up appointments after completing treatment.

Mrs Perry advocates for all women, particularly rural women, to make sure they prioritise making an appointment at the BreastScreen van whenever it’s in town.

“If you think you’re too busy for a 20-minute appointment and miss it, it could be six months until it’s back again. Cancer can grow rapidly in that time, and I don’t even want to think what would have happened if I’d put off my screening.”

Pictured: Monique Perry.

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