The Impact of Clinical Trials – Candace Cook Shares her Story

Candace has been living with cancer for over a decade. She was first diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer over ten years ago and then stage 4 over seven years ago. In that time, she has been through various treatments and clinical trials. She emphasizes how important these trials are, as she has been out of conventional treatment options for about a year.

“Clinical trials at this point in my life have been tremendously important,” Candace says. “Without clinical trials, I would have no further treatment options. … I’ve been through 7 lines of treatment and there are no others left. So all I have to rely on now is clinical trials.”

Candace has been working with her oncologist, Dr. John Mackey, to continue to search for more clinical trials. “You just gotta keep me kicking until the next big thing comes along,” she recalls telling him.

Though Candace was hopeful about the last trial that she was participating in, it, unfortunately, wasn’t successful. Still, she maintains a positive perspective: “The way I try to look at it now is: that’s 8 months I may not have had otherwise. I made so many awesome memories in those 8 months and you can’t really put a price tag on that.” 

Candace is optimistic about the availability of clinical trials. She also notes the role that the Covid vaccines have had on cancer research, mentioning that her last trial used a cancer-treating mRNA drug: “There does seem to be a sort of momentum in the research world. And I think that’s one of the interesting things about the pandemic, is that it has fueled that a bit.”

In terms of the pandemic, Candace is thankful for the vaccinations; but even though she and her family are vaccinated, she still feels cautious, as her lungs have cancer and are also prone to pneumonia. 

Though it may be difficult with the pandemic, Candace is still able to find the balance between enjoying life and being careful of Covid. “It’s always this balance of trying to continue to make memories and do the things that I want to do with my family and yet do it in a way that’s safe and make sure that none of us ends up in the hospital,” she says.

Candace enjoys every moment as it comes and tries to make memories with her family: her husband, her son, and their new dog. 

“I don’t get too far ahead of myself, I just try to appreciate where I’m at and every day I find little things to be thankful for and grateful for,” she explains. “When my son started his first day of grade 8, that was a day of gratitude for me because I was first diagnosed when he was only 2 years old. I never thought I would see this day.”

When Candace has bad days, she is patient and honest with herself and her own feelings: “I just let myself feel all the feels and take the time I need to feel all the emotions and then move on and try to find gratitude again. That’s what’s carried me on from day one till now.” 

Candace greatly values the time she spends with her family, especially by traveling. Although the pandemic has made it difficult to travel, Candace still finds joy in taking road trips with her family. “I still go on trips with my family and I appreciate the moments we have together. I’ve always said that I don’t have to go anyplace fancy; I just want to go someplace with my boys and spend time just being happy with them.”

Candace and her family have also made several camping trips to the mountains with their new dog, aptly named Jasper: “We bought ourselves a pandemic trailer, and got ourselves a pandemic dog. We’ve added a member to the family, and we’ve spent lots of fun time traveling and hiking and going to the lake… It’s been great.”

Currently, Candace is looking forward to participating in several clinical trials. She expresses her gratitude for the opportunity and considers herself lucky, as some patients are not able to qualify for any trials at all. 

“One of the things I recognize is that it’s not always easy when you’re a cancer patient to get on a trial. And so when you do, it can be like winning the lottery. And that’s how I felt when I got on the last trial. … I recognize how fortunate I am and I have watched far too many friends of mine — all mothers with young children — who ran out of options and didn’t have a trial to turn to and who are no longer with us. So I’m just thankful and I have been blessed to have been given this opportunity — not just once, but a few times. For that, I’m extremely grateful.”

Candace also thanks to the Alberta Cancer Foundation for supporting her. “Without [the Alberta Cancer Foundation], I wouldn’t be able to participate in some of these trials. I’m super grateful for that and all the support you give to the clinical trials.”

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