Andy Creevy’s wife, Louise, “loved colourful clothes and fashion, was charismatic and a bit of a messer as well. She was good craic and she had this incredible smile,” he says describing his wife, who, at the age of 32, and while pregnant with their daughter, Alannah, discovered she had a mass on her lung. As a fit and healthy woman, who was never ill, the discovery came as a huge shock to them both.
Because of the mass, “Louise was induced a month early and Alannah was born in February 2018”, Andy says. “Two weeks later, Louise was admitted to St James’s Hospital to have a lung resection. The operation went well and Louise was able to return home.”
Unfortunately, however, a month later, Louise became ill again and it was discovered that she had tumours on her liver and spine. Further investigations revealed that the tumours contained the rare NTRK gene.
“When we received the news that Louise’s tumours contained this gene, we were introduced to a network of people to discuss the option of a trial drug,” Andy explains. “Prof Ray McDermott knew the exact trial that was needed and that this was the best option, as standard chemotherapy would not be the answer.”
Louise was approved for the trial and her health and quality of life improved almost immediately, Andy says. “It was incredible the turnaround within the space of a couple of weeks. You wouldn’t have known she was ill. She had lost a lot of weight and she came back to her normal weight. No one would have known she was sick. There was no change to her appearance. The only thing she had to do was take a tablet – one in the morning, one at night. It was just incredible the way it worked.”
Louise preferred to focus on the here and now rather than looking too far ahead, Andy says, and with that in mind the couple decided “this is what we’re going to do and we’ll try and live as good a life as we can for Alannah. We never really put a timeline on it, we just tried to get through anything that was thrown at us and Louise was amazing.”
Andy credits the trial drug with giving Louise "a quality 3½ years" as a family and precious time making memories with their young daughter. "We were away in Portugal, we were away in Dunmore East. We had holidays. We had a great time with Alannah. She was able to be a mother to Alannah."
Sadly, Louise died in July 2021. “It’s only, I suppose looking back now, because we didn’t realise that the time we were going to have would be short, so we were definitely able to make the most of it.
“For Louise, to have had those years with Alannah, and Alannah remembers them – we have photos all around the house, and lovely videos – it was fairly comforting to have that.”
Consultant medical oncologist Prof Ray McDermott says there are different types and stages of cancer drug trials. One is “at the point where you’ve used all your standard options and now you’re trying to see does this new drug work in that condition and sometimes it might and sometimes it mightn’t”.
“But what a lot of our trials are more about is looking at what is the current standard treatment available for a given condition and adding in another drug to see does it improve the overall outcome for a given patient. A lot of trials would be done in patients whose cancer has spread, but not all of them,” he explains.
“Sometimes we do trials in which we are looking at people who have had their surgery and we’re trying to give them treatment so their cancer never comes back. And we’re looking at adding in a drug there to see if you can cure more people.”
In the trials that take place in Ireland, patients typically get access to a new drug, "which looks promising. It's been tried out in a lot of patients so we know what the side effects are.
“Let’s say we accept that a certain drug is the drug that we use for a given disease. How do we prove that actually two drugs is better than one, or this drug is better than the previous one? The only way you can do that is by doing a big drive where you give half the patients the two drugs, and you give half the patients the standard drug and you see who does better. They’re the kind of studies that we do more of in Ireland,” Prof McDermott explains.
One of the positives of receiving trials, Prof McDermott says, referring to the pressure the healthcare system is under, is “in the trials you have a dedicated nurse who’s looking after you, who arranges all your scans, who answers the phone to you, who’ll be able to look out for you – all of those things which are very important to patients”.
In looking towards a cure for cancer, Prof McDermott says one of the ways we approach that is through “trying out new drugs, combining old drugs with new drugs and showing that we have improved the overall dams. You have to show that this is better than what was there before and that’s what we’re aiming to do – to always be improving the outcome for patients.”
– Cancer Trials Ireland, a not-for-profit registered charity, is organising a "Just Ask" free webinar on clinical trials to mark International Clinical Trials Day on Friday, May 20th, from 2-3pm. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.