Trusting the Trial: How One Woman Has Been Breast Cancer-Free for 12 Years
It was just a routine mammogram for Virginia Mortenson. Just a routine mammogram, and then she could go on her planned vacation for a relaxation-filled trip.
"When I came back, they said we should do another mammogram," said Virginia. "That's when I started wondering."
After a second mammogram and a biopsy, it was discovered that Virginia had stage 1 breast cancer. Soon after this point, the tumor was removed via lumpectomy, but she still needed to undergo therapy. That's when she first met Dr. Dhimant Patel, medical oncologist at Aurora BayCare, where he informed Virginia she had a couple options – chemotherapy, or take part in a trial, called TailorX, where hormone therapy was possible.
More than just one option
Virginia agreed to partake in the trial, which consisted of over 10,000 women, all having had breast cancer with hormone-positive receptors. Breast cancer cells with these types of receptors react to estrogen by multiplying.
Because Virginia's likelihood of recurrence fell in the midrange, the first step of the process involved a computer randomly deciding if she would receive hormone therapy, or a combination of hormone therapy and chemotherapy. The result? Virginia would receive hormone therapy alone, which consisted of her taking a pill daily to block estrogen production, preventing the growth of additional cells.
"TailorX clinical trial was one of the most important studies we've done for breast cancer patients," said Dr. Patel. "Now the majority of our patients can get hormonal therapy and not have the side effects of chemotherapy."
Virginia was relieved the computer chose hormone therapy for her treatment.
"I didn't want chemo if it wasn't going to be helpful, because of all the side effects," explained Virginia. "If that was the only way, of course, I would have done that. But if it didn't need to be done, why go through it?"
Paving the way for other women
Not only did Virginia want to overcome breast cancer, but she also wanted to help other women who were diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of this study, about 70% of women with this common type of early stage breast cancer do not need chemotherapy.
"I participated so women in the future could make a choice and rest secure in that the data was on their side," Virginia said. "It has changed the whole way oncologists practice now. I know how torn I was, so if it could be helpful to others, then great."
Thankful for an alternative
It has been 12 years since Virginia participated in the study, and she is appreciative of good health, her strong faith and the staff at Aurora BayCare.
"The people here were extremely helpful and informative," expressed Virginia, "My checkups have been great, and I'm enjoying my yoga several days a week!"
"I think there are a lot of misconceptions of what is involved in a clinical trial – more time, more expense, privacy might be compromised. None of those were true for me," expresses Virginia.
In fact, she highly encourages others to consider clinical trials, if possible. "From my experience, clinical trial treatment is just as good – if not, better – than the current protocol. It's very rewarding to have been part of a clinical trial that would help others in the future."