Defying “The Usual” thanks to a Clinical Trial

By Christian McCuaig on July 5 / 2018


When Elaine Cawadias found out she had ovarian cancer, she experienced a rather unexpected emotion: relief.

Her symptoms had started only one month after her final appointment with her oncologist, where she received one last “all clear.” Elaine was a breast cancer survivor, and had been in remission for nearly 7 years.

“At that time, there were really no treatments for recurrent triple negative breast cancer. Women were only surviving about six months,” Elaine says. “When I started having new symptoms, we were afraid the breast cancer was back. That was the point where my husband and I started doing things like sharing our passwords.”

Elaine knew the prognosis for ovarian cancer could also be poor and that recurrences were common, but she still felt she had a chance. “I was diagnosed at stage 3, but I had hope in the idea of fighting a different type of cancer where I could try new treatments.”

Elaine underwent surgery and chemotherapy, keeping her positive attitude even when the ovarian cancer reoccurred just over a year later. She completed her next rounds of chemo while continuing to work, even taking family trips between treatments to China and Peru. When another reoccurrence came 8 months after that, she finished chemo again and asked her doctor if she might be a good fit for a clinical trial.

His response? “I was actually just about to suggest that myself.”

Elaine knew about trials through her work with patients who have ALS at the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre. She understood she might not receive a ‘miracle cure,’ but that it was worth a try. When her condition didn’t improve during her first 6 months on the trial, her doctors discovered she was in the placebo group and switched her to another arm of the trial to receive the active treatment, a PARP inhibitor called Rucaparib.

Then, the results came quickly. “I’m hesitant to say I’m in remission or I’m cured, because you never really know,” Elaine says. “But my CT scans are completely clear, and my blood work is well under control.”

And it’s been like this for over two years.

“After the first year, I was amazed my scans still looked so good. Then we got through year two…it’s just incredible.” Elaine says.

Apart from feeling a little tired and sensitive to the sun, Elaine doesn’t experience any side effects. Her hair has grown back since her chemotherapy days, and she’s thankful to be free from the debilitating fatigue.

“Life is pretty great right now,” she says.

While Elaine does sometimes find herself wondering how long the treatment will work, she says she feels lucky. Even through all the recurrences and uncertainty, she has never lost her positive spirit, explaining it gives her a sense of normalcy when life is anything but.

In fact, Elaine remembers one doctor’s visit where a medical resident observing the appointment was shocked to hear she had kept traveling and working out with her personal trainer, even during chemotherapy.

Her doctor simply replied, “This is not your usual patient.”

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