It's Personal to Us: Viola

patient stories, it's personal to us

Viola, associate clinical manager, and her family live in The Netherlands.

I had thought I would become a doctor. Then, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. With two small children — one and five years old — I had no choice but to hang on and alter my plans.

With this diagnosis, I found it was not always advantageous being a patient who knows a lot about clinical trials, medicine and diseases. So, I made a conscious decision to behave as any patient would and ask my doctor questions, instead of thinking I already knew the answers or searching for the answers on the Internet.

At the academic hospital where I was receiving my treatment, I was faced with the option of receiving the standard treatment or participating in a clinical trial. I chose the clinical trial.

From the moment I was offered the informed consent form, I realized I was really a patient in a clinical trial, needing to listen to and trust my doctor.

Still, there were times the training from my career took over. For example, the doctor had signed my informed consent form on the patient’s signature line. I corrected his mistake, initialed my correction and dated it. As a clinical research associate, I knew this would be a nice gesture to the CRA who would be reviewing my data.

My trial was the opposite of the standard treatment. I was to complete weekly chemotherapy/antibody therapy, which was to be followed by surgery after six months. The advantage of this treatment would be that after the chemotherapy, the tumor would be evaluated.

Unfortunately, I lasted only two weeks in the study. I experienced a serious adverse event and was withdrawn from the study. The doctor gave me a different chemotherapy, which I was able to tolerate. And, fortunately, I was offered the investigative treatment schedule, which allowed me to see the effect of the chemotherapy on the tumor and see the tumor disappear on the consecutive scans. 

After a year of treatment, I was declared free of cancer. In addition to my family, the support of my colleagues at PPD kept me going. I received attention and sympathy from all my (worried) colleagues — not just once, but during the entire treatment period. They sent me emails, greeting cards, flowers, poems and even small jokes to make me feel better. 

I found my world became smaller when I was sick, and this communication kept me from locking myself in. It made me feel like I was still part of the team. In response, I sent weekly emails to my colleagues to keep them updated about my situation and give them a good idea of what I was going through.

I credit the development of new medicines and treatments for my life. Without these options, I may not have survived cancer. I no longer have the desire to become a doctor. Having been in a clinical trial as a patient, I know that I can help others through my work at PPD. The feeling of accomplishment that comes from helping others gives my life meaning.

Interested in a career in clinical research? Explore available opportunities in your area.