Wife and Mom, Cancer Survivor and Clinical Trial Participant
“If someone has an opportunity to participate in a clinical, and it’s something they can do, I recommend it highly.”
Clinical Trial Is One Way She Fights to Find a Cure
Katie Whyte says she’ll do anything to find cures for cancer. Now cancer-free for five years, she’s already done more than most people by participating in a clinical trial.
“I’m glad I did it,” said the 35-year-old mother of three. “If I had it to do again, I would.”
The Midland woman was part of a three-year national study to see whether the pill form or infusion form of a cancer-fighting medication was better at keeping cancer from spreading to a patient’s bones. She entered the study through the clinical trials program at MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland.
At age 30, Katie was diagnosed with breast cancer and received care at MidMichigan, including chemotherapy, a radical double mastectomy and radiation treatment, as well as the care involved in the clinical trial.
Whyte’s group took the pills for three years and finished in 2009. For an additional decade, her MidMichigan oncologist, Michel R. Hurtubise, M.D., one of the trial’s medical investigators, is continuing to examine her every six months to track results. A Way to Fight Cancer
“Participating in the trial is another way to make sure I was going to be okay,” Whyte said. “I also just needed to fight in every way that I could.
“My thought process was, on one hand, what if I don’t do it, and it is successful and I didn’t get in on it?” she said. “On the other, it’s a way to help other women in the future, like my own daughter if she should ever get sick.”
Whyte, the youngest of 10 children, also decided to have genetic testing. She and two of her siblings tested positive for the BRCA2 gene, which signals a higher-than-usual cancer risk. “We’re very careful now. My sisters get tested regularly and my daughter will start getting tested early,” she said. “We’re all just passionate about fighting breast cancer. Everything I own is pink.”
Whyte views the follow-up as another way to support her continued good health.
“I feel amazing now. I work every day and I kick-box five days a week. I feel good,” she said. “The six-month checkups confirm that I’m as healthy as I feel, and if anything does develop, I’ll find out quickly.”Medical Progress From Clinical Trials
Most medical progress is based on knowledge received from clinical trials, according to Breast Health Specialist James Reif, M.D., of MidMichigan’s Breast Health Program.
As just one example, Dr. Reif noted that, thanks to women years ago whose clinical trials showed the effectiveness of less-aggressive breast surgery, surgeons can now offer many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer surgeries that preserve more breast tissue. Trials also measure risks and side effects of various treatments.
Only two or three percent of cancer patients enroll in clinical trials. Encouraging more participation is one goal of the Michigan Cancer Consortium Initiative, of which MidMichigan is a member.
Misconceptions sometimes keep patients from choosing to enroll in a trial. “For example,” said Dr. Reif, “they might think every study includes a group that receives a placebo – a treatment with no active ingredients – but that’s typically not the case. Most control groups usually receive some type of standard treatment.”Five Investigators at MidMichigan
Five physicians at MidMichigan are certified to enroll patients in clinical trials, according to Medical Center Clinical Trial Coordinator Dennis Ouillette, R.N., R.T.(R). In addition to Whyte’s medical oncologist and principal investigator, Dr. Hurtubise, they include Medical Oncologists Daniel Danso, M.D.; Ahmed Abdel-Maksoud, M.D.; Syed Hassan, M.D.; and Radiation Oncologist Rajnikant Mehta, M.D.
In a community the size of Midland, local access to clinical trials is unusual. “These are national trials,” said Dennis Ouillette. “It requires additional resources and staff at the Medical Center and additional knowledge and dedication by medical staff. We are fortunate at MidMichigan to have both.”
At MidMichigan’s Center for Women’s Health, offering trials specific to breast cancer helps to maintain accreditation under the American College of Surgeons’ National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. This MidMichigan program is one of only six accredited centers in Michigan.
“When I think about our clinical trials program,” said Dr. Reif, “it makes me feel confident that our medical staff are up-to-date in standard treatment, and that they are knowledgeable in new potential treatments that could be beneficial to our patients in the near future. The ability to offer clinical trials is ‘icing on the cake’ for our patients.”
Katie Whyte feels good about it, too. “I talk to people who have been approached about clinical trials, and I always tell them to do their research. Find out how it works and if it is realistic for them. If they have an opportunity to participate, and it’s something they can do, I recommend it highly.”
Those who would like to know more about clinical trials at MidMichigan may visit www.midmichigan.org/clinicaltrials. Information about participating in a specific clinical trial is available by calling Dennis Ouillette at 989-839-1781.