Clinical trials are saving blood cancer patients’ lives in Western Australia

On Thursday 12th November, Snowdome and Blood Cancer Research WA (BCRWA) held their annual Blood, Sweat and Tears of Joy educational event at the new EZONE, University of Western Australia. The event was hosted by Prof Chan Cheah who interviewed a panel of clinicians, researchers and courageous patients. The conversations uncovered the value of the work being conducted at BCRWA and how your donations have contributed towards saving lives and improving patient outcomes.

“Cancer is the great disrupter, it can come at any time.” Prof David Joske

Prof Chan Cheah is determined to improve the outcomes of Western Australian blood cancer patients. It has been his focus ever since he returned to Perth from the United States. In 2018, with the assistance of the Snowdome Foundation, Prof Cheah founded Blood Cancer Research WA (BCRWA) and with it he started to change the outcomes for blood cancer patients.

In Australia, it is predicted by 2030 that blood cancer will be the leading cause of life lost to cancer. The fastest way to get better treatments for blood cancer patients is to offer them clinical trials. As Prof Cheah stated; “sometimes the difference between having a clinical trial or not is life and death.” The number of patients treated through blood cancer trials at BCRWA has tripled since 2018. The ability to enrol more patients into life-saving trials is a direct result of being able to employ Clinical Fellows. This could not have happened without the support of generous donors who provided critical funding. In fact, patients in WA now have better access to new treatments than many places in the world.

The tangible proof of clinical trial success comes from speaking with patients. One such patient is Rita Zuks who is alive today thanks to trials. Rita had exhausted all treatment options for her lymphoma when she was referred to Prof Cheah with just 3 months to live. Four years later and 5 trials on she is alive, well and enjoying quality time with her grandchildren. Rita is not the only patient that attributes her life to a clinical trial. Cheryl Rowlands was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma (FL) and was the perfect candidate for a clinical trial that Prof Cheah had developed. The standard treatment for FL is chemotherapy, which while effective in many patients, has a host of side effects such as; hair loss, neuropathy, nausea, vomiting and even heart problems. Prof Cheah wanted to offer his patients a treatment option that allowed them to still have a good quality of life, so he developed a trial to determine the efficacy of a combination of three non-toxic treatments. Six months later, Cheryl received the news that she had a complete response to treatment. Cheryl commented, “I feel privileged and blessed to be on a trial that has allowed me to be treated without all the nasty side effects.”

John Mahoney openly shared how he really is a case of a clinical trial being the difference between life and death. He was receiving weekly blood transfusions for his chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and was told twice to say his farewells as there was nothing left to help his condition. John was eventually referred to Prof Cheah and Clinical Fellow, Dr Kat Lewis to be assessed for a trial. John has responded well to treatment and his health is going from strength to strength. Rita, Cheryl and John are just three of the patients that have benefited from clinical trials at BCRWA. Dr Kat Lewis explained that when she commenced her role with BCRWA she only had two patients on clinical trials. That has now grown to 60 patients. The trials are examining very effective treatments which means a lot of the patients are able to remain on their treatment for extended periods of time and if the treatment fails to work, there is usually another trial treatment option available.

The seed funding provided by philanthropic donations enables lives to be saved through access to new treatments on clinical trials. This has helped the government to understand the value of roles like Lymphoma Nurse, Helena Fundras. Helena’s role is currently funded by Snowdome through your generous philanthropic donations. Moving forward the Government will fund this role as they now understand the value she provides to patients and their treatment outcomes.

BCRWA Committee Chair, Mark Westbrook closed the evening by restating that Prof Cheah’s incredible team are funded through the donations you make. Mark expressed his thanks to those who have already supported BCRWA achieve life-saving outcomes for blood cancer patients and invited others to become a part of the BCRWA success by helping fund future positions.

Pictured supplied by Jude Quinlan Photography featuring L:R John Mahoney, Cheryl Rowlands, Jonathon Wolf, Helena Furdas, Prof Chan Cheah, Dr Carolyn Grove, Dr Katharine Lewis