For women undergoing treatment for cancer, a little encouragement can mean the world.
Lara MacGregor, who lives with metastatic breast cancer, started Hope Scarves in 2012 to provide women undergoing cancer treatment a way to encourage one another by sharing a scarf and a story. In 2015, Hope Scarves established a Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Fund to raise funds to support research and patient care.
For 2019, Hope Scarves has provided a gift of $25,000 to the University of Louisville James Graham Brown Cancer Center, with an anonymous match of $25,000 for a total gift of $50,000. The funds are designated to bringing more clinical trials for metastatic breast cancer patients to Louisville.
Kentucky has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the United States, and Jefferson County has one of the highest rates in Kentucky. Participation in clinical trials is one way to improve outcomes, not only for the patients who participate, but by bringing more and better treatments to market for all patients.
“Participation in clinical trials benefits not only the patients involved in the trial, but the field of cancer treatment in general,” said Beth Riley, M.D., deputy director for clinical affairs at UofL’s Brown Cancer Center. “Currently, metastatic breast cancer is not curable with standard treatment. By participating in trials, patients in Kentucky not only have early access to novel drugs or drug combinations, but they are helping physicians and scientists learn more about effective treatments and disease characteristics so we can move closer to a cure for this disease. Clinical trials involvement is vital to improve the lives of cancer patients here in Kentucky and worldwide.”
One patient who benefitted from treatment in a clinical trial at the center is Brenda Craig, a Louisville native who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. After several years in remission, her cancer returned; this time it was stage 4 and more challenging to treat.
“The treatments I was getting were not making me feel good and were not doing anything for my cancer,” Craig said. “When my doctor said, ‘Would you like to try the clinical trial?’ I wanted to live, so I said, ‘Yea! Sure, I’d try it.’”
Her condition improved while she was on the trial treatment, nearly bringing her to remission again. Unfortunately, she had to stop the trial drug when she came down with pneumonia. Nevertheless, she is grateful to have had the opportunity.
“The clinical trial brought me a long way. I was on it 8-10 months and I was doing great,” Craig said. She now is on another treatment, but her cancer has remained stable.
Craig said one of her most important missions on her cancer journey is to support others with the disease, a mission shared by Hope Scarves.
“We are human. We cry and we tell our stories to each other. My story helps you and your story helps someone else. We keep it going,” Craig said. “Even if I don’t make it, I hope I can be an example for someone else, that whatever they did for me, it can help someone else.”
MacGregor, a Louisville resident, has seen clinical trials benefit patients at the UofL Brown Cancer Center, and her own treatment includes a drug tested at the center. She wants Hope Scarves’ funds to invigorate that process.
“There is a huge burden to participate in clinical trials that are only available in another city. You have transportation and lodging to consider, and you are away from your home support system – your family and friends – who truly make a difference when you are fighting this disease,” MacGregor said.
By making more trials available in Louisville, not only local women benefit, but also future patients by allowing more people to participate in the trials, advancing medical research more quickly.
“Clinical trials are the future of cancer treatment, not a last resort,” MacGregor said. “These therapies are the next generation of care and may give patients better outcomes, and we are providing these funds to enable more women to have access to them.”
Runners in the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Mini Marathon have raised funds for Hope Scarves as a team, Outrunning Cancer, for the past seven years. In 2015, Hope Scarves presented its first gift to the UofL Brown Cancer Center to support basic research. This year, in addition to UofL, Hope Scarves is providing funds for basic cancer research to Johns Hopkins Medical Center and the Dana-Farber Cancer Center at Harvard University.
“It is our intentional strategy to fund both basic science and patient access to care,” MacGregor said.