A clinical trial journey from cancer patient to survivor

Jul 25, 2017
A clinical trial journey from cancer patient to survivor

Please note that this article describes the personal story of Roberta Aberle and may not be typical of the cancer patient experience. This article is not intended as medical advice or to replace advice offered by medical professionals.

Despite the vital role clinical trials play in the development of lifesaving drugs, over one-third of trials fail to meet their enrollment goals. In fact, around 10 percent of clinical trials fail to recruit a single patient.1

For those people who do enroll, some may experience little to no benefit whereas others bear witness to a complete turnaround in their progress.

One of those who falls into the latter group is Roberta Aberle.

Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2012 and given just months to live, Roberta is still alive today thanks to clinical trials.

Roberta shared her experience at a recent breakfast meeting hosted by Astellas at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting.

The meeting included three talks exploring some of the key issues in modern day cancer care and how to overcome them over the next 10 years.

A common theme

Cancer was a common theme in Roberta’s family. Her eldest sister died of ovarian cancer when she was young. Another sister died of reproductive cancer within six months of being diagnosed. To avoid the same fate, Roberta had a hysterectomy to protect herself against the possibility of hereditary cancer.

The cancer Roberta was diagnosed with was primary peritoneal carcinoma (PCC) – a form of cancer that occurs in the lining of the abdomen.

Her diagnosis came after a visit to her doctor following two weeks’ worth of abdominal pain.

To her, the pain didn’t seem too bad. At worst, she thought it could be appendicitis.

However, after seeing her doctor, Roberta was sent for diagnostic tests – tests which confirmed the presence of cancer.

“It all went by in a blur,” said Roberta. “I just couldn’t believe how quickly I’d gone from being on top of the world one day to being in a world of isolated terror the next.”

Because of the number of organs involved, her doctor gave her between six and 12 months to live with palliative care being her only option.

A remarkable turnaround

Despite her poor prognosis, however, Aberle was determined her disease would not take her life. Being an employee at the University of Colorado hospital, Roberta knew that a clinical trial could be an option.

She investigated the possibility of participating in a trial, but was initially met with a response of “that’s a really big process.” Determined, she pressed on.

Both Roberta and her physician drew up a list of clinical trials she was eligible for, eventually finding one. Within 10 days, she was fast-tracked to the trial and began her therapy two weeks later.

The treatment proved successful. Within six months, markers in her blood indicating cancer dropped dramatically, opening the door for chemotherapy. She would eventually undergo another clinical trial and further therapy before having surgery to put her in remission.

Encouraging patients

Roberta now advocates and shares her remarkable experience through public speaking events and a personal blog. To her, the existence of a clinical trial saved her life.

“I got lucky because I already had some knowledge about clinical trials, but many people don’t,” said Roberta.

According to Roberta, people need to be more receptive about clinical trials. But at the same time, more effort needs to be put into raising awareness about them and encouraging patients to take part.

“Every one of you has an opportunity to become better informed and more enthusiastic to help the many patients just like me.”


  1. Our Mission. Coalition for Clinical Trials Awareness. Accessed June 14, 2017. Available at: http://cctawareness.org/about-us/.
A clinical trial journey from cancer patient to survivor

Stakeholder Engagement is a function within Corporate Affairs at Astellas that focuses on creating, building and maintaining third-party relationships. We serve as a conduit between Astellas and external stakeholders to help improve patient outcomes, improve access issues and address patients’ unmet needs head on.

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