‘I was born for this. She’s my world. I was put on this earth to be her Mum.’
– Kelly, bone cancer survivor, speaking about her daughter Amelia.
Having been left infertile from her bone cancer treatment, Kelly needed IVF to realise her dream of becoming a mum. Now her only wish is that her little girl will never experience the pain or lasting impact she has from cancer treatment.
This Christmas, with your help, we’re close to making this mum’s wish come true – thanks to a promising research project by Associate Professor Christine Hawkins and her team at La Trobe University.
Kelly with her husband Matthew and four-year-old daughter Amelia.Kelly was just 14 years old when she was first diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, and would face cancer twice before she turned 20.
She faithfully kept a record of everything that happened since the initial diagnosis, chronicling the details of her story in a cancer scrapbook. It’s 47 pages long and filled with her fears, words of encouragement to herself and details of her many months of treatments.
Kelly underwent intensive chemotherapy, radiation and had her rib removed. The treatment saved her life, but left her with a host of long-term side effects.
“My body’s been through the wringer,” Kelly says. “I see a kidney specialist, because I’ve got kidney impairment. I’ve got something wrong with my heart. I’ve got spots on my liver. I have to see a rheumatologist. And then I’ve lost some of my hearing as well; one of the chemo drugs affected my hearing.”
Kelly in July 2000 with a naso-gastric feeding tube that was put in to help her gain back some of the weight she lost.
The treatment also left her infertile. Kelly had always imagined she’d be a mum, but at only 15 years of age, that dream was shattered.
Fortunately, 14 years after she was told that she wouldn’t be able to have children, IVF made it possible for Kelly to have Amelia, who she calls her little “miracle”.
Looking back on it now, Kelly says of her cancer experience, “With all that I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t give any of it up, because then I wouldn’t have Amelia in my life.”
Now her wish is that her little girl would never experience the pain or lasting impact she has from cancer treatment. Kelly wishes that no young person diagnosed with bone cancer should endure the level of pain and sickness she experienced throughout treatment, or the lifelong damage to her organs that she’s been left with.
And thanks to a promising research project led by A/Prof Hawkins, we could be very close to making this mum’s Christmas wish come true.
A/Prof Hawkins and her team have been extensively testing the effects of different agents on osteosarcoma cells – the most common type of bone cancer.
A/Prof Hawkins (fourth from left) and her research team at La Trobe University.
One class of new agents, called SMAC mimetics, has been very promising for bone cancer. When this agent interacts with cells that contain a specific protein – which is common in cancer cells – early tests have showed that it can be effective in causing the cancer cells to die.
What’s even more exciting is that this agent appears to be effective even after the cancer has spread (metastasised) or the tumour has grown, when survival rates are currently much lower.
Should these treatments make it through their trials, fewer young people with bone cancer will be at risk of damage to their major organs. Fewer people, like Kelly, would be left with an increased risk of a new cancer forming, or ever being told they are infertile.
Every time Kelly looks at her daughter now, she is reminded of how far science has come.
“I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the research that had already been done in the past,” Kelly says. “I think research is the most important thing. If we didn't have people researching cancer, then there'd be no hope of a cure.”
“I wish for a future where cancer is less world changing,” Kelly says. “A future where a cancer diagnosis has a clear positive outcome.”
This Christmas, will you please give to cancer research and help make this mother’s wish come true?