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New Directions

Issue: Fall

Doing All She Can to Help

Karen Harmon enrolled in a clinical trial because she wants to contribute to the growing body of knowledge about breast cancer. Even if a cure is not discovered in her lifetime, it might be for her daughter, Shannon, 21, and future generations.
Having a sister who is a physician dedicated to helping women fight breast cancer did not make Karen Harmon immune to the disease. Diagnosed in 2008 with triple negative breast cancer, Karen, the sister of Bethesda medical oncologist Carolyn Hendricks, M.D., realized she could use her situation to help others with breast cancer. While undergoing chemotherapy, Karen enrolled in a clinical trial to test a drug’s effectiveness in women with early-stage breast cancer.

“With the type of cancer I had, there was a 25 percent chance it could recur,” says Karen, the managing editor of two medical journals. “I wanted to do everything to minimize the possibility this cancer would return.” Even if the study didn’t impact Karen personally, she knew the knowledge gained could help her daughter, sisters and future generations. She encourages participation in clinical trials and has sound advice for those who do:

• Make sure you understand the protocol completely. Consider having someone you trust review the protocol with you. There are different types of trials. With some you know you are getting the medicine and with others you may be getting the medicine or placebo.

• Ask your oncologist to be very specific about the pros and cons of participating, e.g., risks, side effects, cost, time commitment, location. Once you are accepted to a clinical trial, it is important that you adhere to the protocol to the letter.

• Talk to the research nurse assigned to the study; she/he will make the experience the best it can be. My experience was positive and pleasant thanks to Suburban Hospital Clinical Research Nurse Melissa Hyman. She knew the protocol exceptionally well and was always there to talk with me and to answer my questions.

• Explain your treatment plan to friends and family. It is important that the people closest to you learn about and are involved in your care.

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