Stories of hope


Anna Presser

Kimberly


No one is relieved to learn she has breast cancer. Or that it’s stage IV. And it spread to her back and lung. But Kimberly appreciated the definitive diagnosis. She now knew the source of her persistent back pain previously diagnosed as pleurisy, pneumonia, and bronchitis.

“This was something they could treat,” says Kimberly, 49, whose cancer journey began in January 2007. “At least it was the cancer with the most research dollars.” And a sisterhood of research advocates. Kimberly helped to start a virtual support group for women with late-stage breast cancer. Today, they number 2,200, steadying each other, sharing the burdens of the disease and informing one another about clinical trials. Death is a reality, but hope is a constant.

Kim and her peers know research is essential for new treatments. A promising discovery in the laboratory may wind up as a potential clinical trial. She’s grateful the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer generously supports physician scientists and laboratory researchers at the IU School of Medicine as they search for and develop new therapies. “You hear about Vera Bradley giving money to IU School of Medicine, and we know they’re directing it where it needs to go.”

Shortly after Kim arrived at IU, Dr. George Sledge, her oncologist, asked if she’d be interested in joining a trial. It would compare two drugs and how effectively they repaired bone damage from the spread of cancer. Another goal was to see how well bones were protected from aggressive cancer cells. “Why not?” she said. “It’s not going to hurt anything.”

Within three months, she ditched her wheelchair and was back walking. Two months later, she returned to work. Scans showed her bones rebuilding and growing stronger. She could go back to dancing and dig her hands into her garden. She now even travels to national breast cancer meetings and provides a valuable “consumer” perspective to researchers vying for federal grant funding.

Three years ago, breast cancer returned, this time invading her left hip where it connects to the head of the femur. Kim enrolled in another trial but “the drug failed me.” For now other therapy is keeping the disease stable.

Looking back on the past 10 years, Kim sums it up by saying, “I’m glad I did it this way. I’m glad I came to IU to do clinical trials.” Participating in research brings a fuller understanding of the disease and enriches the support she can give others.

—IU School of Medicine

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