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Taking a Chance on Hope

His wife died of melanoma a few months ago and he was talking about hope.

I can’t claim to have known her well, but in my own encounters with her and by all accounts, she was a remarkable human being.  She was highly respected at work, a close friend to many, a loving wife and a doting mother of two young children. 

When she was diagnosed several years ago, the picture was not pretty.  The average patient with Stage IV melanoma lives a few months—most often less than a year.  But she defied the odds.  The standard treatments bought her some time.  When they stopped working, though, she started participating in clinical trials

This is where the hope comes in.

Her husband said she was committed to doing clinical trials out of the conviction that something experimental might help her.  And that’s what happened.  Far beyond anyone’s expectations, she lived four years, moving from trial to trial.  Each study gave her access to options.  They were unproven options, but they came with hope.  In her case, the trials she was participating in would become headlines and the foundation for new treatment options being approved by the FDA.       

The four years that her participation in clinical trials gave here were filled with good memories and time with her husband and her children.  She was able to usher her young children into their teen years and help them navigate the waters of adolescence. 

Four years.  Four Thanksgivings with turkey, stuffing, and all the trimmings.  Four Christmases with carols and wreaths and presents wrapped up with a bow.  Four cycles of birthdays, of anniversaries, of seasons changing. 

While her dream of defeating the melanoma did not become a reality, is it any wonder that—given those four years—her husband was talking about hope?

This is not the whole story, however.  Her participation in the trials wasn’t just driven by her hope to beat her own disease.   She knew that the only way to prevent other husbands from becoming widowers, to stop other children from becoming orphans, would be to learn more about what works and what doesn’t work in treating melanoma.  Knowing this she offered her body as a sacrifice, a guinea pig, a test subject.  And in doing so she became part of a legacy of hope for future generations of melanoma patients.

Nobody knows at the outset whether their clinical trial will make headlines or be discussed at major medical meetings.  It’s a chance that every trial participant takes.  But every single trial lays the groundwork for new and better therapies by building what we know and identifying what we don’t know.  By joining those trials, each person battling this relentless disease is hastening a time when others will not have to go through what they are experiencing.

Knowing that a small army of courageous patients are embracing this path, how can we not have hope?