In January 2015, at 59 years old, Delores Zuk was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. she was expected to live only 18 months if she opted for chemotherapy. but her oncologist, Dr. Randeep Sangha, was leading a clinical trial at the time and Zuk was eligible to participate. since her diagnosis, Zuk has participated in two clinical trials that not only improved her quality of life, but are the reason she beat the odds. she shares her story here:
“I will always remember that first CT scan. My lungs looked like they were stuffed with cotton balls, or like the sky when it’s filled with white, fluffy clouds. In other words, my lungs were full of cancer.
“I was given my options. My first option was to do nothing, which would give me six to eight months to live. My second was to do chemotherapy, which would give me up to a year and a half. The third option was to participate in a clinical trial of which my oncologist, Dr. Randeep Sangha, was the local lead. The trial was testing a new treatment drug called alectinib; Dr. Sangha said if I took the research drug, it could possibly give me five to six years.
“I was coughing all the time. I didn’t have the energy to do what I loved in life like golfing, dancing with my husband or enjoying the company of my grandkids. It wasn’t hard for me to make a choice: I decided to participate in Dr. Sangha’s clinical trial.
“I started in March 2015. Amazingly, within about one week of taking alectinib, my coughing was almost all gone. Participating in the trial meant I took eight alectinib pills daily — four in the morning and four at suppertime — and I had to fill in a diary daily. I also visited the Cross Cancer Institute every eight weeks for follow-up appointments, an MRI and CT scan.
“The alectinib blocked my cancer for four years, but then it became resistant to that drug. Luckily, Dr. Sangha was leading a second clinical trial and I was eligible to participate. In May 2019, I began taking a research drug called brigatinib. I took just one brigatinib pill at the same time each morning and filled out a diary. That trial ended in March 2021, but I am still taking the brigatinib for my cancer. It’s the reason I’m doing as well as I am today.
“I feel so fortunate to have participated in these clinical trials. I experienced very few side effects from the research drugs, and now I feel healthier and more energized. I always felt very well taken care of by the research team and knew I was in good hands.
“The trials not only helped me beat the odds, but they gave me more time to live my life. Throughout this journey, I continued working and retired at the end of June. I celebrated milestones, like graduations, with my family. But beyond my own personal experience, I’m hopeful that my participating in these trials could also help someone else down the road.”