From the beginning of her breast cancer journey, Tracy Palmer knew she wouldn’t be going it alone.
Her close-knit family — husband, five children and three grandchildren — has made the incredible journey with her. When she had chemotherapy, her husband, Tim, and her teenage daughters, Shauna and Tianna, along with their friend Jacqui, shaved their heads in a show of support.
When she went shopping for a wig, three of her five children — including son Tim Jr. — tagged along to help make the selection. And each of her kids (including Tabby, Samantha and grandchildren) accompanied her husband and her to at least one of her chemotherapy sessions at the OSUCCC — James, so she could show them that her cancer treatment “was really not scary.”
“Your imagination is always worse than the truth,” said Palmer, a facilities space analyst at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, who describes her family as “a touchy-feely, huggy, goofy and fun” bunch of folks. “I thought that if my kids could see me feeling okay and still laughing during treatment, it might help them be less concerned.”
Just as important, her family has seen the positive steps she has taken by participating in not just one, but five, clinical trials and also contributing to a tumor sample bank — valuable contributions to cancer research. And she’s always watching for other studies to enter.
Palmer admits she was at first reluctant to enroll in a trial, but now she is “very passionate about them. I want to help end the myths surrounding these studies and make people understand how important they are for advancing cancer treatment.”
The first trial that she joined was for chemotherapy following her single mastectomy — a randomized study to compare four rounds of AC therapy (named for the drugs Adriamycin [also called doxorubicin] and Cytoxan) with four rounds of Taxol therapy.
She was in the group receiving Taxol, the newer drug.
“As I thought it over, I realized that the standard of care I would receive was because of people who had participated in clinical trials before me,” Palmer said. “People who I didn’t know had done this for me, so I had a responsibility to do it for my daughters, my granddaughters and for people who I don’t know. These trials aren’t just about me, but them.”
Fortunately, her cancer had not spread. A few months after her chemotherapy ended in April 2009, she began breast reconstruction, a series of surgical procedures that she completed in December 2011. She has had no recurrence and is considered cancer-free, but she remains committed to clinical trials.
Palmer also has donated tumor samples to the Spielman Breast Cancer Tissue Archive, which represents more than 2,000 breast cancers being used to develop a tissue microarray that enables researchers to evaluate genetic and molecular changes of potential importance to this disease.
In addition, Palmer volunteers as a patient-family adviser at the OSUCCC – James and frequently talks to groups about her experience as a patient and with clinical trials. She even has a Facebook Fan Page called The James Cancer Warriors and is on Twitter as BCSurvivor08.
“Many people think you join a clinical trial when you’re on your last leg and need experimental medication or that on a trial you may receive only a placebo that does not help you, but these negative perceptions are not true,” she said.
Palmer said most trials for patients with a chronic or serious condition are designed to add a newer treatment or a new treatment combination involving the current “gold standard” of care plus another agent, and compare the outcomes to patients who are treated with just the “gold standard.”
“So everyone receives at least the current standard treatment, and if the newer treatment is successful, those who were receiving the standard treatment are often switched to it,” she added.
Palmer believes she has a mission to share her story. “I have a strong faith and believe that everything happens for a reason,” she said. “God can use anything for good, and I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to help others by sharing details of my journey as a survivor.”