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Participation in long-term clinical trial brings connection to past

MUSC News Center | June 10, 2013


Participants in the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study-3 fill out a questionnaire, have measurements taken and a blood draw. They are followed for at least 20 years, being contacted every two years to gather more data.

A little hesitant about volunteering to be in a cancer prevention study, I approached the sign up table where the next question I was asked did little to allay my fears.

“You do realize this is a long-term study?”

I nod, trying to remember if it were two or five years that I would be required to fill out questionnaires.

“It’s for the next 20 years.”

I nod slower, rethinking my choice. Entire wars could be fought. My children would be grown. For the moment, the question derails my worries about the upcoming blood draw.

“I could be dead by then,” I say. “You’re not accountable if you die, right?”

The health worker smiles, handing over yet another form for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-3. MUSC served as one of the host sites in the lowcountry. Nationally the goal is to enroll 300,000, with the study attracting more than 184,000 at the date of my enrollment. MUSC turned out to be the second largest site out of 10 in the lowcountry to enroll participants with 96 people volunteering.

This is the first time I’ve ever volunteered to be part of a study and not the best timing for me. My co-worker who accompanied me to take photos reminded me of the new commitments I had on my plate for this year. Her question, “Do you really need to be adding this, too?” rolls over in my mind.

 I think back to my brother, to a haunting image I have that comes to me unbidden from time to time. My brother died of melanoma at age 33. He was in his hospital bed and his cancer was spreading. It was my shift to sit with him and keep him company. During those sporadic moments when he’d wake, we’d have rambling conversations, when he was able to piece together strings of consciousness.

“Please do something to help me,” he said, during one of these times. We held each other’s gaze, both of us knowing there was nothing I could do except be there as a witness. The sun was setting and cast a golden glow across his bed. I felt a crushing weight of helplessness on my chest like diving too deep beneath miles of sea.

I tried to smile and rub his arms and feet. We wordlessly faced the fading of the light.

I bring my thoughts back to the task at hand and take the volunteer questionnaire knowing that it won’t bring him back or change my mother’s breast cancer, but it’s something. It’s a landmark cancer study that will help researchers better understand lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors that make cancer tick.

I feel good as they draw the fourth vial of blood. It’s a small way of remembering, of fighting back.

Editor's Note: Inside Track is a periodic column by MUSC faculty and staff about the intersection of health matters and our lives. Dawn Brazell writes for the MUSC News Center in the Office of  Public Relations, where she works as an integrated communications manager.

Related Stories >>

How to find clinical trials (WSJ)

Campaign champions clinical trials (The Catalyst)

Resources >>

Cancer Prevention Study - 3

Hollings Cancer Center clinical trials

SC Clinical and Translational Research Institute


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