It's Personal to Us: Heather

employee, it's personal to us, patient

Heather works in strategic proposal development at the Morrisville, North Carolina, office.

A couple of years ago, my mom and I were shopping when she complained about a painful pinch in her side. We later learned that her lung had collapsed. After numerous tests and two days in the hospital, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She has never smoked a day in her life but has the rare adenocarcinoma with an anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutation. My dad and I were completely shocked. My mom is 53 years old, works and has always been healthy. At the time of her diagnosis, cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes, liver, spine and brain.

She tried chemotherapy and stereotactic radiation on her brain, which had no effect on the cancer. She was put on a drug recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This worked for about a year. My mom's doctor in Durham, North Carolina, wasn't aware of any other options that she could tolerate. It was a very emotional experience because, at this time, I was planning my wedding, and I wanted my mom to be there on my special day.

Having exhausted our options with our Durham doctor, we traveled to Boston to visit a leading doctor in the country for my mom's specific type of cancer. She was aware of three clinical trials we could try.

For more than six months, my mom has been in a clinical trial. She holds down a job and travels to Charleston, South Carolina, on a regular basis for the trial. In the beginning, it was every week, now it's every three weeks. Each day she takes the study drug in pill form twice. She's more like herself on this drug than she was during the chemotherapy.

We had a scare a couple months before my wedding. The cancer increased, and she showed signs of liver toxicity. Now, though, her cancer is almost "nonexistent," and she's doing much better. Although we know she will never be considered cured, according to doctors, she can continue to live her life and gain more time with us.

In the beginning, the cancer diagnosis discouraged me. The chemotherapy wasn't working, and we had no idea if she would live long enough to be at my wedding. I'm relieved that chemotherapy was not the only option. If it were, my mom wouldn't be here today. 

We are very thankful for every minute of time we share together and are extremely thankful for clinical trials. The availability of the trial and her willingness to participate allowed my mom to see me, her only daughter, get married. Working for PPD makes me feel closer to finding cures, and that is very satisfying.

My mom's diagnosis changed my life in many ways. It helped me figure out what's important. It is amazing to me that I work for a company that develops drugs to help people, like my mom. Working for PPD, we get to see all the work that needs to happen to get a drug developed. I feel like the job I do helps toward finding cures. I wonder what is going to be the next new medicine to help someone, especially in oncology research.

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