Saturday 20 May is International Clinical Trials Day – an opportunity to celebrate the importance of clinical trials and recognise the progress being made. To mark the day, Sharon Myatt shares her experience of taking part in a clinical trial following her pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Recognising my symptoms
I’d been suffering with upper stomach pain that had started to wake me up at night. I’d also lost a lot of weight. I was 9st 6 in November 2012 and just over eight stone in July 2013. I hadn't been dieting, but found my appetite had changed, I would often start a meal and feel full or not want to eat it.
In September 2013 I was exhausted and noticed my eyes looked a bit yellow. I visited A&E and was told I was mildly jaundiced and to see my GP routinely. I wasn't going to bother seeing the GP, but I wanted to make sure that it wasn't hepatitis, as I'd just got my first tattoo.
My diagnosis and treatment
A blood test showed my liver function was very abnormal, so I was sent to Leicester General Hospital and started treatment for jaundice. But a CT scan confirmed a tumour was in my pancreas and I would need Whipple’s surgery to remove it. After surgery it was confirmed I had pancreatic cancer and the tumour was bigger than originally thought. They had successfully removed it all but still referred me for a course of chemotherapy.
Taking part in a clinical trial
I was then asked if I would consider taking part in the ESPAC 4 clinical trial, which would involve me in either receiving the current standard chemotherapy treatment (gemcitabine) alone, or a combination of gemcitabine and capcitabine. I agreed straight away and started the combination treatment in January. I completed the treatment with few side effects. I was then monitored every three months and had a scan six monthly in the first year.
It’s now been three years since my diagnosis and my last scan in November was still clear. I feel extremely fortunate to have been eligible for such a successful clinical trial. I continue to take Creon to help digest my food, but overall I have recovered well.
I had heard of pancreatic cancer before diagnosis but had no idea what the symptoms were. I believe more people could have a fighting chance against the disease if there was better awareness of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.
I was determined to stay positive throughout my treatment, and used the Pancreatic Cancer UK Support Line once when I was worried, which was very helpful. I know I run the risk of my cancer returning, but I've already had three precious years which is denied to so many.
I have five children. My youngest is eight, I’m a guardian for her. I’ve seen the birth of four grandchildren, which I would’ve missed if I’d not been diagnosed early. I am blessed.
Top tips on taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are an important treatment option for people with pancreatic cancer. Read our top tips for taking part in a trial.
1) Get the facts
Find out as much as possible about the different types of clinical trials for pancreatic cancer and why they are important. Knowing about all the different treatment options available to you can help you in deciding a treatment that may be suitable for you.
2) Searching for trials
Use our Trial Finder to search for trials that might be suitable for you, and are near where you live. You can also ask your doctor about trials, and whether there are any that might be an option for you.
3) Find out as much as you can about a trial
If you do find a clinical trial that’s suitable for you it’s important to find out as much as possible about it. This can include finding out about the pros and cons of taking part, which you can ask the trial team about. This will help you in deciding whether you want to take part.
4) Ask lots of questions
Before deciding to take part in a clinical trial it’s important to ask questions as this will help you decide whether a clinical trial is the right option for you.
5) Support and information
You can call our specialist nurses on our free Support line (0808 801 0707) with any questions about taking part in a clinical trial. They can explain more about clinical trials and whether a trial might be suitable. Or find out more about trials on our website at pancreaticancer.org.uk/clinicaltrials.