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Successful clinical trials inspired me to save others too

By Lisa Smyth

It was the courage of Northern Ireland women who participated in Herceptin trials which led to Lynn Lynas making the decision to take part in medical research herself.

The mother-of-two was diagnosed with the disease in 2007 after she discovered a lump in her left breast.

As a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness for 10 years and with two friends who had been diagnosed with the disease, Mrs Lynas was aware of the symptoms and knew to make an appointment with her GP.

“There was a definite puckering of tissue when my left arm was raised,” she said.

“I had been for a mammogram in 2002 which was all clear but when I saw the doctor this time I was diagnosed straight away. The consultant told me that a benign lump in the right breast had been found as well as two malignant lumps in the left.

“I was told I required a mastectomy and the removal of my lymph nodes, but I just wanted to go ahead and get on with whatever needed to be done.

“The surgery all went very well and I had a very quick recovery. A week later I learned my cancer had been assessed as grade three, meaning it was quite aggressive. It was also found to be Her2 positive which the drug Herceptin is said to be effective against.”

Doctors told Mrs Lynas her treatment would involve chemotherapy, radiotherapy, Herceptin and tamoxifen. They also gave her the option to take part in a Cancer Research UK Tact 2 clinical trial.

She added: “I was told at the time about the standard option and the doctor told me he didn’t know if the trial would be better, but the way I looked at it is the research is looking at improving the chemotherapy.

“I decided that other women before me had taken part in clinical trials on Herceptin and it was going to benefit me, so I should consider helping others if I have the opportunity.

“I was told the standard treatment is six cycles of chemotherapy but the type two trial is looking at different ways to administer the chemotherapy. I got a strong form of chemotherapy on its own for the first four cycles and then another four cycles of another mix of drugs. It is effectively lengthening the time you have chemotherapy, but hopefully it is more effective.”

Mrs Lynas’ experience in a clinical trial was so positive that when her family was dealt a second blow — one of her daughters, Sarah, was diagnosed with non Hodgkins lymphoma in September — her first hope was that she could take part in a research study.

“Sarah is a student nurse and she was becoming very, very tired but we put that down to her being a student and burning the candle at both ends,” Mrs Lynas said.

“But she was also having chest pains and when she was lying down it was uncomfortable. She went to the GP and he sent her for an ECG which came back clear. They then did a chest X-ray and a shadow showed up. They didn’t know if it was a blood clot or a problem with her heart so she had a CT scan and further investigations which showed she had a large tumour.

“I spoke to one of the cancer research nurses and asked her if there were any trials Sarah could take part in, but there was nothing available for her type of cancer at the time.

“I had such a good experience being on the trial. If you have any questions, there is always someone there to answer them and they keep a closer eye on you. I would be willing to take part in another trial.

“Sarah’s treatment was quite aggressive. As for my own prognosis, it is a wait and see thing. I was two years clear in April which is very good, nothing has returned. We’ve booked a family holiday to South Africa and we’re all looking forward to getting away.

“Sarah has had a few wee complications but in general she is doing very, very well. We’re very lucky to have the cancer centre on our doorstep.”

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