Life is short, so sometimes, you just have to buy those shoes! While I was working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, that’s what an oncology patient told me when I complemented her boots. I will call her Lara, as her boots reminded me of Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video game series.
Lara had made the decision to enter a CGT clinical trial. In addition to the hefty protocol requirements, our university also required patients to live within 30 miles of the hospital for up to 6 weeks without the need of driving for up to 8 weeks post-infusion. A single infusion required over 56 key staff members from the apheresis team, inpatient, outpatient, research, dietetics, psychiatry, financials, etc., and I was responsible for coordinating them all to meet the study’s needs and university/ local/ state regulations.
There was a moment during a required 12-lead ECG collection where Lara started to cry. During her appointment with the oncologist while her husband and young children were on the phone, she had the realisation that the study might not work. I think cognitively, she understood her situation from the beginning but on an emotional level, it was the first time she wondered what it might mean for her children.
During the appointment, she asked me how old I was and whether I still felt I needed my mother. She discussed family and had me re-review aspects of the trial with her again. I reminded her that the study was voluntary. Lara decided to move forward with the study for her family and because it could help us understand her disease to treat others in a similar position. The trial only briefly demonstrated improvement. Within a year, Lara had passed away.
In July 2022, my own mother was diagnosed with cancer. Due to innovations in surgery, radiation, and therapy over approximately the last 30 years, my mother was able to receive a minimally invasive surgery, radiation and therapy that may not have been possible without work by clinical researchers. Currently, she has no evidence of disease.
I decided to write this article because my mother’s birthday happens to fall on World Cancer Day. Reflecting on my eight years at Colorado University, I’m reminded of the conversation I had with Lara and the question she asked. I will always need my mother in some form, though the way in which I need or relate to her changes as I age. Cancer could affect any one of us and at any moment. I have seen patients walk away with complete remissions or regain function they had lost from clinical trials even when they were initially told they only had months left. It’s those cases where spirited individuals passed away that drive me to continue this work and remind me how important this job is to those patients living with cancer. It is the reminder to keep going so everyone may see the same success clinical innovation has brought to my own family.
So, for my mom’s birthday, for Lara and for World Cancer Day, I think, I will get mom a pair of shoes.