“There need to be other treatment options. We need more clinical trials and we need to keep innovating in clinical research.”

-PPD Hero Teresa Dunlap

OUR HEROES
Eric Miller

Eric Miller

2015 HERO

"We attribute Garrett’s survival to the clinical trial he participated in."

My son, Garrett, was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma on June 23, 2000. The next day, he had brain surgery to remove the tumor and was left profoundly visually impaired. He received six weeks of radiation therapy and 64 weeks of chemotherapy. He was left on a ventilator for two days, aphasic and paralyzed. He had to relearn to walk and talk.

Garrett’s participation in a clinical trial took his survival rate from 50/50 at the beginning of treatment to 90% at the end of treatment and the close of the trial. This year, he celebrates his 15-year anniversary of being healthy.

Hear how a clinical trial saved Garrett Rush-Miller’s life in his video below.

Garrett is a remarkable young man. He is a Life Scout in the Boy Scouts and completed his Eagle Scout. He is very athletic and well-spoken. He is passionate about helping others and uses every opportunity to mentor younger kids through their struggles. He is a great example.

In 2001, I started the Rush-Miller Foundation which donates tandem bicycles to blind and low-vision children in the United States and abroad. So far, we've donated more than 80 tandems in 23 states and six countries, which has allowed nearly 2,300 blind and low-vision kids to ride a tandem bicycle.

I am so excited about promoting awareness of clinical trials! I'm serious about doing whatever I can to help the cause.

Liz Llyod

Liz Lloyd

2015 HERO

"I know that, by being in a clinical trial, I am providing another tool in the toolbox for medical researchers."

At the end of 2011, I started limping. And then I couldn’t walk. My diagnosis? Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. I have a fast-growing cancer that had jumped into my bones and affected my pelvis.

With standard care, I was walking by February 2012 and my body responded to the treatment. My cancer went into regression and for more than three years, I didn’t feel like I had cancer. I continued with my passion for swimming and my work at PPD as a pharmacist in medical communications. My therapeutic specialty is diabetes and metabolic disorders. For my job, I share medication information about diabetes drugs to health care providers to improve their patients’ care.

Then on May 5, 2015, during regular scans, four tumors were detected on my liver. By June, my oncologist had me signed up for a clinical trial. Two months later, the tumors are smaller – with one more than 50 percent smaller.

There are other treatment options, but enrolling in a clinical trial was the best option for me. While I have more blood drawn and more biopsies than with standard care, I know that the clinical trials are gathering data to help others.

Being in a clinical trial is empowering and gives me a special feeling. I am helping someone else with my similar cancer. While I know my work at PPD is incredibly valuable, as a trial participant, I almost feel like I might be doing more for society than I do working as a pharmacist and providing information to health care providers.

I know that, by being in a clinical trial, I am providing another tool in the toolbox for medical researchers. I wake up with hope, and that gives me fuel for my fire. It is an amazing feeling.

Mark Hoffman

Mark Hoffman

2015 HERO

"I am thankful to all who have helped me get here, and I advocate never settling for ‘good enough.’ "

Without Crohn’s disease, I wouldn’t be a triathlete. It wasn’t until a Crohn’s diagnosis at age 27 that I stopped taking my health for granted. And today, I am participating in a clinical trial to manage my disease.

My initial diagnosis came with a prescription that caused me no side effects. Unfortunately, the medicine did not work for me.

Two years later, I found a gastroenterologist who was not satisfied with "good enough." He put me on an aggressive biologic medication, but I first had to test for tuberculosis. When the test came back positive, I started a nine-month course of antibiotics.

Unfortunately, however, the biologic medication didn’t work for me either, and four years after my initial diagnosis, a surgeon removed six inches of my intestine. After the surgery, I enrolled in a clinical trial to find the right combination of therapies for my disease.

I am extremely grateful for my doctor who was not satisfied with "good enough."

I am thankful to all who have helped me, and I advocate never settling for "good enough."

PPD Heroes

PPD Heroes

PPD celebrates everyday heroes who have overcome life-threatening illness by participating in clinical trials or who serve as medical professionals engaged in clinical research. PPD Heroes are championing increased public awareness of the importance of clinical trials to help people in need.

PPD Heroes
Teresa Dunlap

Teresa Dunlap

2017 HERO

"There need to be other treatment options. We need more clinical trials and we need to keep innovating in clinical research."

I was diagnosed with early stage triple-negative breast cancer around my birthday in October 2012. I remember thinking: I’m not going to die. I have too much to do. I’m going to live.

Learn why Teresa Dunlap participates in clinical trials to help advance treatments for breast cancer in her video below.

As an executive director of project management for PPD, I've worked for more than 20 years on clinical trials, including overseeing general cardiovascular and large cardiovascular endpoint clinical trials. Having good information is critical in a clinical trial, and after my diagnosis, I started wondering if I had all the information I needed about my disease.

What are the statistics? What will increase my rate of survival? What will be my quality of life? I became inundated with information and frankly a little overwhelmed. In the end, I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

My doctor told me if I survived three years, I would be out of the danger zone for a recurrence.

In October 2014, I celebrated my birthday and surviving the three years since my diagnosis, the critical milestone in my prognosis.

We haven’t won the fight against cancer. People think that because of all the medical advances, we don’t need to worry. But people are still dying. We can’t be complacent where we are. There need to be other treatment options. We need more clinical trials and we need to keep innovating in clinical research.

Jolene Hopper

Jolene Hopper

2015 HERO

"It turned out to be the best treatment for me, and the trial also will help others after me who suffer from the same condition."

During an annual gynecological exam, my doctor noticed a lump in my breast. I had just turned 35. My daughter was 10 and my son was three. Two weeks later, when the results came back, I heard the diagnosis: breast cancer. To say I was surprised is an understatement. I have no family history of breast cancer, I exercised and I ate right.

Luckily, I qualified for a clinical trial involving a promising combination of drugs. As part of the trial, I underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. To maintain a sense of routine during my treatments, I continued to teach group fitness classes in addition to my full-time job.

At first I was disappointed by having so many rounds of chemotherapy, but as the trial progressed, I was grateful. It turned out to be the best treatment for me, and the trial also will help others after me who suffer from the same condition. If it’s going to help, I’m all for it. Cancer treatments have come a long way, and you don’t make progress until you have clinical trials.

Meg Roberts

Meg Roberts

2015 HERO

"Researchers have made it possible for people to survive Type 1 diabetes."

I have Type 1 diabetes. Every day I get out of bed, I exercise, I eat well, I manage my condition to the best of my ability and I love my life. Certainly, 100 or even 50 years ago, my quality of life would not have been what it is today, without medical research and the availability of one simple drug. That simple drug is insulin. At 10 years old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease. When I was 10, my own body attacked the cells of my pancreas that produce insulin. As I result, I have to inject insulin, every day – several times per day.

Meg Roberts and Family

Most people don’t think about their food very much. When they are hungry, most just put food in their mouth. The body does the rest. But unfortunately, I have to be a little more precise in my healthy eating. With each bite I put in my mouth, I must do a calculation in my head: I’m about to eat 45 grams of carbs and I just completed a 2000 meter swim. How much insulin does that mean I have to take?

Every bite, every step, every day requires a careful balance. I’m happy to report I’ve been doing this, with a fair amount of success, for 27 years since I was diagnosed. And for those 27 years I am so grateful. One bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, two wonderful children, a lot of traveling, five marathons, nine half marathons and eleven triathlons later I am still able to tell you my story.

Researchers have made it possible for people to survive Type 1 diabetes and have developed different types of insulin and ways to monitor blood sugar. Additionally, research has helped medical professionals understand how the endocrine system works. In turn, this helps people like me do those little calculations in their head. Those little bites, those little steps, they all add up. I want to make sure they add up to keeping me healthy for a very long time.

Someday, I hope those researches will develop a cure. My condition is chronic and there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes. Even though I may not see a cure in my lifetime, at least it is manageable today due to those doctors and researchers.

Laura Hull

Laura Hull

2013 HERO

"I am grateful to clinical researchers like PPD for their continued support of the search for treatments for debilitating diseases."

When I was 24 years old, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I spent the next 15 years battling the disease and the accompanying cramps, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and fatigue. Worse, was feeling chained to bathrooms. If I wasn’t assured of quick restroom access, I wouldn’t participate. It wasn’t worth the risk of an embarrassing accident.

As a result, the boundaries around my life began to close in. Travel, one of my long-time passions, ceased. Outings and activities with my family diminished. And exercise? I could barely make it through some days, let alone have the energy for any type of physical activity.

I participated in a clinical trial testing new medications. Thanks to those who funded the trial, the extensive medical tests and exams I underwent during the trial were cost-free for me. While I proved unresponsive to the medicines used in the trial, my hope is that what was learned from my participation helped further the advancement of effective treatments for ulcerative colitis.

Learn why Laura Hull participates in clinical trials to help advance treatments for ulcerative colitis in her video below.

At the age of 39, I made the decision to have my colon removed. The surgery gave me a second chance at life. Instead of living with restrictions, hemmed in by what I was unable to do, I relished seeing the prior boundaries of what I was capable of doing come crashing down.

I am thankful for those who participated in clinical trials in the years prior to my diagnosis, as they paved the way for the excellent medical treatment I received. I stood on the shoulders of those who had gone before me in the search for treatments. I am thankful to have played a small part in developing better treatments for those with ulcerative colitis. It is a horrible disease. Many of those it affects suffer in silence, embarrassed to talk about the pain and problems of living with ulcerative colitis.

No one should have to make the choice to have an organ removed from their body. Effective, kinder medical treatments for diseases must be found. While that treatment never materialized for me, through continued clinical research, I hope the stories for others will have a different ending. I am grateful to clinical researchers like PPD for their continued support of the search for treatments for debilitating diseases.

Vic Kinnunen

Vic Kinnunen

2013 HERO

"My hope is that there will be a cure for Type 1 diabetes and clinical research plays a critical role in the search for a cure."

I have lived with Type 1 diabetes for more than 36 years. For many years, however, I didn’t talk about diabetes, because I didn’t want to be perceived as different or less capable than others. I had no diabetic friends and didn’t want to discuss diabetes, blood sugar levels or anything else related to the disease.

In the 1970s, I was fortunate enough to have a pediatrician who recognized that exercise played a role in diabetes management and I have been active throughout my life – swimming, playing basketball, participating in track and field, and playing football in high school and college.

When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, there were no insulin pumps, no synthetic insulin, no blood glucose meters, and no continuous glucose monitors (CGM). Today, clinical trials focused on integrated delivery systems (CGM and pump in one device), closed-loop, dual-hormone delivery systems (artificial pancreas), "smart" insulin, longer-lasting insulin, and faster acting insulin are among those that will improve the lives of the continually growing diabetic population. I have all of these tools at my disposal thanks to organizations like PPD that run the critical clinical trials that enable these devices and medications to be more safe and user-friendly.

Especially for my daughter, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2011, my hope is that there will be a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Clinical research plays a critical role in the search for a cure. Until that happens, people need to realize that having diabetes is not a limiter in terms of what you can accomplish. Limits come from our own assumptions about what’s possible to achieve. Diabetes should be a motivator and exercise should be a critical component of every diabetic’s management strategy.

Wendy Chioji

Wendy Chioji

2017 HERO

"Before I even knew if I would get better, participating in a clinical trial was a way for me to pay it forward."

Today, I am in my fourth clinical trial. One for the cancer I beat 16 years ago. And three for the cancer I’ve been fighting the past three years.

I have recurrent thymic carcinoma. Nope, I’d never heard of it either. It’s an extremely rare, fast-growing cancer of the thymus gland, right behind the sternum. There is no standard-of-care treatment, so my oncologist (who’d never seen a case of TC) chose low-dose chemo and radiation.

It worked. Until it didn’t.

At that point, the only way to keep myself alive was to find a clinical trial. There weren't many.

After much searching and a bit of divine intervention, I got into a trial at the National Cancer Center. This worked great for me, shrinking the tumors, but also shrinking my white blood cell army. Within months, even though the drug was working, I was out of the trial. My neutropenia was too bad. Too few white blood cells meant an infection could be devastating.

This is why it’s a trial.

The next trial I got into was for the drug that saved former President Jimmy Carter’s life. It didn’t save mine.

This is why it’s a trial.

I’m now more than 14 months into my third trial. It was pretty much the only trial I could get into when the last trial didn’t help me. My doc told me this new trial had worked for only 10 percent of patients in the trial. But it’s working for me.

This is why it’s a trial.

If I had been diagnosed with thymic carcinoma just a couple of years earlier, there would have been NO clinical trials for me. I know this because one of my college friends died of thymic cancer a few years ago. She had no options.

Not only do clinical trials give people like me options, they allow doctors and researchers to develop treatment plans that will work for people like me who haven’t been diagnosed yet.

I’ve been a strong supporter of participating in clinical trials since 2001, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and jumped right into a trial, even though I didn’t even need to be in a trial for myself. There were standard treatments at that time that most likely would have had great results. But other people had participated in trials to develop those standard treatments, and I felt I should do the same. It worked for me then, and it’s working for me now.

There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about how much I appreciate the work of everyone who’s in the clinical trial field. I try to live my life well, in appreciation of all their work. Keep at it, please!

Mary Kreis

Mary Kreis

2012 HERO

"Without clinical trials, my cancer may have been missed."

The year 2004 was both an incredible and a heartbreaking year. The incredible adventures began as I was achieving a life-long goal of riding my bike cross-country. Beginning in Oregon, I rode through seven states and went over 3,000 miles before I realized that my body was giving me clues, including weight gain (even with riding 70-115 miles a day), that hinted I was pregnant. I felt energized and focused on the ride – continuing on to Pennsylvania for my new college teaching job, riding more than 3,500 miles with a baby on board.

The same day that school started, a dermatologist examined a mole that had changed earlier that year. A biopsy showed that I had melanoma and that I would have to have immediate surgery to remove the mole and the main or sentinel lymph node that it drained to -- all at 23 weeks pregnant.

Two days later, I learned that Lance Armstrong would be in Pittsburgh. Even though I had not yet recovered from surgery, my entire family and I went. It was an overwhelming experience for me, not only to see Lance, but also to begin to think of myself as a "cancer survivor" and to be among cancer survivors as they sat in the seats with us and lined the outfield park.

Just days after my surgery, I was told that the cancer had spread to my sentinel lymph node. I had surgery again less than two weeks later. I was so worried about my baby's health. The surgeon removed eight nodes in my groin.

My oncologist told me that if clinical trials had not been conducted in relation to sentinel lymph node surgeries prior to my procedure, they might not have been able to confidently perform the surgery on a pregnant woman and identify a cancerous tumor in this node. Without clinical trials, my cancer may have been missed.

We named our healthy baby girl Viva – for living life to the fullest!

Dr. Birgit Arb

Dr. Birgit Arb

2012 HERO

"I cannot stress the importance of clinical trials enough."

I cannot stress the importance of clinical trials enough and I thank the patients and caregivers, who are truly our heroes, who allow us to continue to find answers to the treatment of these difficult diseases.

I am a medical oncologist with Cape Fear Cancer Specialists in Wilmington, N.C., as part of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Physicians Group. My passion is to provide state-of-the-art care and support to adult patients with cancer – from diagnosis through treatment.

As is true of other specialties in medicine, patient participation in clinical trials is one of the best tools for the development of new treatments and learning about the biology of cancer.

Currently, only about 5 percent of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials, and there is great need for improvement.

The story of my patient Lee is a case study demonstrating the tremendous contributions made through clinical trials.

In 1998, Lee was diagnosed with an incurable cancer called multiple myeloma. She was 59 years old and underwent successful chemotherapy, followed by a bone marrow transplant. She remained in remission until 2002, when she was diagnosed with a relapse of multiple myeloma. After reviewing her options, Lee enrolled in a clinical trial using a promising new medication. The treatment worked and resulted in a second remission.

Lee passed away from cancer complications in 2011 at 72, but her legacy lives on. Lee’s participation in the clinical trial, and the sacrifices made by her and other patients, resulted in the development of one the most effective treatments of multiple myeloma that, today, helps countless patients. Patients like Lee inspire me and clinical researchers around the world to continue the fight against cancer.

Willie Vasser, Jr.

Willie Vasser, Jr.

2016 HERO

"I encourage anyone diagnosed with a disease to consider the possibility of a clinical trial."

In May 2004, I was sitting in my doctor’s office feeling great because I had just won my age group in a triathlon. My doctor assured me everything would probably come out fine on my blood work. Both of us were shocked when a few days, and numerous tests later, we discovered that I had leukemia.

My wife, Ellen, an oncology nurse, immediately got involved with my doctor researching the latest treatment options. I felt that going with the normal protocol did not hold much promise, especially with my active lifestyle. So I took the clinical trial route. My wife and doctor explained to me that, by taking this option, I would be closely monitored during and after my treatment.

In February 2005, I started the clinical trial chemotherapy and admittedly was nervous. The next six months, however, proved easy for me and I was able to complete a century bicycle ride around Lake Tahoe during my fifth month of treatment. By September 2005, my condition was considered to be in complete remission.

Sadly, in April 2006, my son Brian called to say he was on the way to Duke Medical Center because he had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. Brian’s leukemia did not respond well to treatment, and he underwent a stem cell transplant and several weeks in the hospital. Seven months after diagnosis, he died on Nov. 21, 2006.

In memory of Brian, Ellen and I continue to participate in events that raise public awareness about leukemia and clinical trials. Though I can’t bring Brian back, perhaps I can help someone else from going through what he did.

Katie McConville Reisinger

Katie McConville Reisinger

2012 HERO

"I truly enjoy being a part of clinical research studies."

I was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that affects mainly the lungs and digestive system. It causes thick mucus to build up in the lungs, which leads to decreased lung function. As I get older, CF definitely has more of an impact on my life.

Over the years, I have participated in five clinical trials, including one that I recently completed, and I truly enjoy being a part of these research studies. It is a worthwhile investment in not only my future, but the future of the entire CF community.

From an early age, I was encouraged by my parents to participate in sports as a way to stay healthy. I began running in middle school and ran my first 5K at age 13. I went on to run track and cross-country in high school and continue running today.

As I get older and my lungs get less healthy, I run slower than I used to. While it is sometimes frustrating, I know I am still getting great benefit from the exercise and love to run.

I spend a lot of time taking care of myself, completing about 1-2 hours of daily breathing treatments, as well as taking medicine with each meal. I have chronic lung infections, so I am often on antibiotics to keep my lungs clear. About once per year I do a multi-week course of intravenous antibiotics. I know that each minute I spend doing a treatment or running is adding time to my future. I am grateful that, throughout my lifetime, countless new drugs and treatments have been developed, and have benefited me, as a result of people participating in research studies.

Roseann Dougherty

Roseann Dougherty

2011 HERO

"I know that anything is possible and that clinical trials can provide hope and new treatments."

I lost my mother to brain cancer when I was 10. She was 33.

There were no treatments available for her at that time. Today, there are treatment options, but still we lose too many loved ones to cancer.

I know. I recently lost my brother and brother-in-law to cancer, and many of my beloved "cancer warriors" who have been my patients.

I know how heart-breaking it is to be told there is nothing more that can be done. I also know that anything is possible, and that clinical trials can provide hope and new treatments that can allow us to beat cancer.

My journey began when I met a young woman named Kristen Adelman, who today also is a PPD Hero.

We met several years ago while training for a triathlon, and a few months later she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I became her caregiver over the next several years, and as Kristen says, it was a clinical trial that saved her life.

During that time, I realized how enormous this journey is and that I wanted to be a part of it to help empower these incredibly brave people, like Kristen, battling cancer. I studied to become an oncology nurse and started a non-profit organization called Team Inspiration to provide healing resources. Today, I am an oncology nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Greenebaum Cancer Center.

One of my very special cancer warriors was first diagnosed with cancer as a teenager and had to have her leg amputated. She had to relearn how to swim with one leg. She was cancer-free for many years but is now in her early thirties and battling cancer once again. When offered the option of a clinical trial, she said it was a decision she didn't have to think twice about – that she was fighting to get back her ordinary, but extraordinary, life.

Today, many of my friends are beneficiaries of clinical trials and are living active and fulfilling lives – working, going to school, raising families, giving back and inspiring one another!

We need to share our stories of success and inspire one another. We also need to empower the cancer community with knowledge and access to clinical trials so that we can provide hope and find new treatments that will one day allow us to beat cancer forever.

Claudio Battaglini

Claudio Battaglini

2011 HERO

"Without clinical trials it is virtually impossible to test new interventions to improve the quality of our lives."

Before I began working with cancer patients, I was an international-level endurance sports coach, and some of my athletes achieved world champion status, Pan-American champion status and even Olympic game appearances.

After being introduced to the concept of exercise oncology – including the many studies demonstrating the benefits of exercise and activity during and after cancer treatment – I began training cancer patients.

Today, I direct my own exercise oncology research programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, conducting clinical trials that examined the effects of exercise in many different physiological systems in breast cancer survivors and acute leukemia patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy.

These programs are designed to examine the effects of exercise training on the mitigation of side effects of anti-cancer treatments; on survival; and importantly, on patient quality of life.

I endorse the fundamental importance and absolute necessity of clinical trials on the improvement of life. Without clinical trials, it is virtually impossible to test new interventions or any strategy to improve the quality of our lives.

I've witnessed the power of exercise, through clinical trials, and have seen incredible positive changes in the lives of many patients.

Kristen Adelman

Kristen Adelman

2013 HERO

"I owe my life to the clinical trial and the incredible team who cared for me."

I am a four-time non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor who has heard the words, "you have less than a year to live," more than once.

After chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant failed, I was left with very little hope for treatment. Fortunately my doctor had the insight to contact the National Cancer Institute to see if there was a clinical trial that might be right for me.

I wasn’t even aware at that time that clinical trials were out there and, luckily, there was one that I met all of the trial prerequisites. I know the treatment I received wouldn’t have been available if it hadn’t been for the trial. These trials directly impact lives, as they help researchers learn and develop new and very necessary medicines and therapies.

I know the trial that I was a part of has advanced considerably in the last eight years and continues to save lives. Also, when I was in the midst of my treatment, I took great comfort knowing that if the therapy didn’t cure me, it would lead to further research to help others after me.

I know this trial saved my life. The care I received was the absolute best, and the team of doctors and nurses was incredible. Today, eight years later, I am healthy, living and loving my life and cancer-free.

I owe my life to the clinical trial and the incredible team who cared for me. I am still very passionate today about reaching out to others to let them know about clinical trials.

Roseann Dougherty

2011 HERO

"I know that anything is possible and that clinical trials can provide hope and new treatments."

I lost my mother to brain cancer when I was 10. She was 33.

There were no treatments available for her at that time. Today, there are treatment options, but still we lose too many loved ones to cancer.

I know. I recently lost my brother and brother-in-law to cancer, and many of my beloved "cancer warriors" who have been my patients.

I know how heart-breaking it is to be told there is nothing more that can be done. I also know that anything is possible, and that clinical trials can provide hope and new treatments that can allow us to beat cancer.

My journey began when I met a young woman named Kristen Adelman, who today also is a PPD Hero.

We met several years ago while training for a triathlon, and a few months later she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I became her caregiver over the next several years, and as Kristen says, it was a clinical trial that saved her life.

During that time, I realized how enormous this journey is and that I wanted to be a part of it to help empower these incredibly brave people, like Kristen, battling cancer. I studied to become an oncology nurse and started a non-profit organization called Team Inspiration to provide healing resources. Today, I am an oncology nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Greenebaum Cancer Center.

One of my very special cancer warriors was first diagnosed with cancer as a teenager and had to have her leg amputated. She had to relearn how to swim with one leg. She was cancer-free for many years but is now in her early thirties and battling cancer once again. When offered the option of a clinical trial, she said it was a decision she didn't have to think twice about – that she was fighting to get back her ordinary, but extraordinary, life.

Today, many of my friends are beneficiaries of clinical trials and are living active and fulfilling lives – working, going to school, raising families, giving back and inspiring one another!

We need to share our stories of success and inspire one another. We also need to empower the cancer community with knowledge and access to clinical trials so that we can provide hope and find new treatments that will one day allow us to beat cancer forever.

Milana Dolezal

2010 HERO

"Clinical trials are very important and a focus of my practice."

I’m in clinical practice as an oncologist and hematologist. Clinical trials are very important and a focus of my practice.

The effects of cancer have personally touched me, when my grandmother, who helped raise me, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. I’ve dedicated my life to fighting cancer on many fronts. I believe in cancer survivorship, living strong, the power of exercise and positive thinking. Courage and hope exist in all of us, and my patients’ determination and full participation is a crucial weapon in the fight against cancer.

My goal is to teach, treat, and empower patients to help in the cancer fight by practicing with empathy and respect, while maintaining my patients’ dignity when treating their cancer and saving lives.

I have a strong clinical trial emphasis in practice, as I worked on developing drugs, writing protocols and as a medical monitor for four years on clinical trials prior to returning to clinical practice.

As cancer researchers, we are beginning to unfold the complex biology of cancer and have evolved the magic bullet concept to halt tumor growth with rigorous testing through clinical trials.

I am a doctor, scientist, caregiver and PPD Hero with a call to action to encourage clinical trial participation.

Kirk Smith

Kirk Smith

2017 HERO

"The reason I am still alive nearly three years after my lung cancer diagnosis is the clinical research done in clinical trials."

The day after Christmas 2013, I was diagnosed with stage IIIb lung cancer. I definitely paused when my wife and I heard the diagnosis. Being a nonsmoker raised red flags. The doctors told me that I had an ALK+ mutation, found in a small number of lung cancer patients. By January, I had started taking a new targeted therapy to shrink my tumors.

The five-year survival rate for stage IIIb lung cancer is 5 percent — a formidable number, but not insurmountable. As a runner, putting this in racing terms, I am not usually the fastest guy in a race, but I've finished in the top two to five percent in a lot of races.

The human body is an amazing thing. Even though my head was spinning from the diagnosis, I continued to train for a half marathon. Exercising helped me manage some side effects I’d experience from the medication. I not only finished the half marathon in March, I did pretty well.

Due to side effects, I changed to a second drug, which I’ve been on for more than two years. My tumors have shrunk, my lymph nodes are currently clear and I am able to train and race endurance events at a pretty high level. The main reason that I am able to do that is the recent development of these new targeted drugs.  

Triathlete Kirk Smith is alive nearly three years after his lung cancer diagnosis due to research in clinical trials.

These therapies have allowed me to live the way I normally live — very actively — and I appreciate life a whole lot more. When I was diagnosed, I had T-shirts made declaring a simple but powerful statement: "Live!"  My goal is to help make people aware of lung cancer and new treatments. I advocate on behalf of Free to Breathe to increase funding for lung cancer research. And I recently had the honor of being part of a patient/caregiver panel discussion at a Novartis national conference in Washington, D.C.

The changes in medication for lung cancer are really amazing. Research led to an understanding of the genetic mutations of my disease and the medication I’m on.  I didn’t receive a death sentence. Maybe I can live with this cancer as if it is a chronic disease. Cancer therapies have allowed me, and patients like me, to live an active life – racing, competing, working and living despite the disease.

Three years, almost to the day, after receiving my lung cancer diagnosis, my wife Janye and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, and we are living a great life. The reason I am still alive is the clinical research done in clinical trials. We need to educate people that research makes a difference. If this were seven or eight years ago, I would probably be dead by now.

Research saves lives. The reality of it, in my particular case, is there’s no doubt it has.

Mollie and Ryan Darby

Mollie Darby and Ryan Darby

2016 HERO

"Fight cancer with a smile on your face and never look back. You always have to look forward because that is where the cure is."

One day, after playing with his brother, Ryan complained of his leg hurting. We didn’t think it was anything, at first. But we started to think something was wrong when he didn’t want to go out and play in the snow. After having Ryan checked out and sending him back to school, everything seemed fine. A week and a half later, Ryan woke up complaining of back and hip pain. Again, we took him to the doctor’s office, where they sent us for a hip X-ray and a full blood work-up.

At 10:30 that night, the doctor called our house and asked us to go to Georgetown Hospital the next day for more blood work. Something was wrong with Ryan’s numbers. Our pediatrician had talked to the head of the oncology department at two different hospitals. Things were not adding up.

There was a lot going through our heads. I knew the doctor wanted to rule out things. It was a super scary time, but we tried to be positive. We returned the following day to Georgetown for a bone marrow biopsy. It was December 23, 2009, a day when most families were getting ready for the holidays with family and friends. Ryan was being admitted to the hospital. After numerous grueling tests, they found the answer they were looking for: Ryan had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Ryan started receiving standard-of-care treatment chemotherapy that night. He didn’t leave the hospital for three weeks.

Ryan and his cancer became my full-time job. Leukemia treatment for boys is 3½ years. We knew we were in for a long haul.

The chemotherapy took Ryan’s immune system to zero. If he had a slight fever — 99 degrees — he would have to go into the hospital for 48 hours. We were in and out of the hospital too many times to count. It became our new normal. Our other kids’ childhoods were changed forever as well — they could no longer have play dates or sleepovers. Life as we had known it was gone forever.

Chemotherapy was difficult for Ryan, but it has saved the lives of so many. We’re the lucky ones. We went through cancer and came out the other side.

In the winter of 2007, a group of women and I got together and began running. After nine months of training, all of us completed our first triathlon under the team name, “Just Tri It.” We began to do more races, and more women joined us. When Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia, they sprang into action to support me and my family. They decided to change our group name to JUST TRYAN IT in his honor.

In the spring of 2010, JUST TRYAN IT was established as a 501(c)3 foundation. Our mission is to positively impact the lives of families whose children have been diagnosed with cancer by providing them with financial assistance. We also strive to instill the importance of philanthropy and service, promote wellness and inspire tomorrow’s leaders to make a difference in their communities.

When Ryan talks about his treatment and his journey, he says, “Fight cancer with a smile on your face and never look back. You always have to look forward because that is where the cure is.”

Our lives were changed forever by Ryan’s diagnosis, but cancer picked the wrong kid…or the right one. Ryan is not going to quit advocating until cancer is cured. He doesn’t think any other child should have to go through what he went through. He’s going to advocate for kids with cancer for his whole life because cancer is what made him who he is today.

Robert Moore

Robert Moore

2016 HERO

"Through medical research and clinical trials, MS is now diagnosed sooner in patients and treatment can begin earlier."

I was doing everything a typical 17-year-old high school student would do and preparing for college. In my spring semester, I lost vision in my right eye. When the doctor had me admitted into the hospital, the emotions finally set in. At the age of 17, I was scared of the uncertainty of what was to come.

For the week I was hospitalized, none of the tests performed could confirm a diagnosis. At the end of the week, I was sent home with my vision slowly returning and no diagnosis. Four years later, I noticed the right side of my face feeling numb and limp. This time, I was referred to a neurologist who confirmed a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), based on lesions found in my brain.

At this time, the cause of MS is unknown and there is no cure. I learned that MS affects everyone differently and the symptoms are not always apparent. The doctor provided me with a lot of material for several different therapies available, which slow the progression of the disease. While an injectable therapy had worked well for me for years, in 2013 an oral MS therapy came onto the market and I started using it.

The only exposure I had to MS prior to diagnosis was a couple of people I knew who used wheelchairs. This motivated me to become more active. I wanted to get as much use out of my legs while I still could.

Since my diagnosis, I have run 14 marathons; ridden in four BikeMS 150s, two century rides, participated in several triathlons and many other events. MS no longer defines me or limits what I can do. I have learned that even though I have MS, I can still enjoy an active lifestyle. I know there may be bumps along the way, but I will deal with them as they come.

Since my diagnosis, I have experienced brief periods of numbness in my leg and in my hand. While I know this will be something I will have to deal with, I am glad to know the diagnosis and treatments of MS are advancing. Through medical research and clinical trials, MS is now diagnosed sooner in patients and treatment can begin earlier. The earlier treatment can begin, the less damage MS will cause. As advances are continued to be made in this field, more people will be able to lead active lifestyles with more manageable effects of MS.

Angela Esquivel

Angela Esquivel

2017 HERO

"Knowledge is power, and power is prevention."

Often, lumps are the first indicator of breast cancer, but my case was different. One morning in July 2002, I noticed an unusual discharge. My doctor’s initial suspicion was it probably was the result of a papilloma (benign epithelial tumor).

To confirm suspicions, my doctors provided tests: a mammogram, a biopsy and a needle dye test. When two doctors came into the room after the third test, I knew it was cancer. I had a starburst effect of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), affecting all the mammary glands and milk ducts in my right breast, though my left breast was not affected.

DCIS is the most common type of noninvasive breast cancer. Fortunately, I benefitted from early detection. I asked immediately, "How quickly can I have surgery?" I wanted to get it over with. I was too busy and didn’t want "this cancer" to be a burden. I had things to do, as I was planning on starting a new career at PPD!

On September 6, 2002, a date I celebrate as my anniversary of being free from cancer, I had a complete right breast mastectomy.

Today, I have two daughters, ages 13 and 10, and two special upcoming 15-year anniversaries: one for joining PPD and one for beating cancer!

I try to give back in my job as a senior manager focused on patient safety, stepping up to work on any breast cancer research study opportunities that PPD has, in order to help other women facing a breast cancer diagnosis. I have been fortunate to work on a number.

I am an advocate for knowledge. I do this by sharing my story with others. I want to help educate and promote cancer awareness. My motto: Knowledge is power, and power is prevention.

Denise Fowler

Denise Fowler

2017 Hero

"I’m here today in large part because of clinical research."

Ovarian cancer was something that had never crossed my mind. My dad fought and lost his battle to non-small cell lung cancer, but I had no family history of ovarian cancer, so I had no reason to suspect anything. That all changed in 2000 when my doctor performed an ultrasound related to some relatively routine cysts on one of my ovaries that led to the discovery of a complex mass on my other ovary.

Other than what my doctor found, I had a clean bill of health, so he felt no further action was necessary. But I wasn’t going to let him off that easily, so I asked to remove the affected ovary. It took some convincing, but after much cajoling on my part he finally relented and performed the surgery. Four days later, my doctor was surprised to inform me that the mass was indeed cancerous, so we followed the initial laparoscopy with major surgery and then four rounds of chemotherapy. I am thankful for the chemotherapy that had been approved through cancer studies and was included as part of my treatment.

Professionally, I work in oncology at PPD and recognize that what we do is so critically important to the development of life-changing and lifesaving therapies. What I’ve also learned by doing what I do is that every day matters in clinical research. Literally every day. For people suffering from cancer, our ability to meet a trial timeline or, better yet, shave off a day or a week or more could mean everything to their survival.

I am thankful that I have been free of cancer for more than 15 years. But what I learned through dealing with this disease is that you need to stay on your guard, follow your instincts and serve as your own advocate, since you’re the person best equipped to do so.

Since being diagnosed in 2000, I have focused much of my energy and attention on telling others about ovarian cancer and clinical research. For example, September is ovarian cancer awareness month, so I use that as an opportunity to make other women aware that I’m a survivor and that they need to be proactive to protect themselves. I post information on Facebook for others to share and it’s amazing how many people respond. At the same time, I’m here today in large part because of clinical research. That’s a great gift, so it’s something I’m going to continue to proclaim as long as I have the breath to do so!

Emily Schaller

Emily Schaller

2016 HERO

"I am constantly seeking new trials to help develop life-saving therapies."

In 1983, at 18 months old, I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF). Thirty years ago, the median age of survival for CF patients was in the late teens. Doctors told my parents that I may not live long enough to graduate from high school.

In my early teens I started participating in clinical trials. CF research has a rich history and people with CF have a hopeful future because of clinical trials. The correlation of all of the new treatments and the increased survival in CF patients is remarkable. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in trials for some important new drugs for cystic fibrosis.

Learn why Emily Schaller participates in clinical trials to help advance treatments for cystic fibrosis in her video below.

I finished a trial for a drug that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in early 2012. Within four days of starting the Phase III trial for this therapy, I knew something huge was happening.

Through clinical trials, my hope is that other therapies will be developed to treat the underlying cause of CF, so others never have to do the daily treatments that my CF friends and I have to do now.

That is the vision I promote as founder, CEO and president of the nonprofit Rock CF Foundation, which is dedicated to improving quality of life for people with cystic fibrosis, supporting research initiatives and increasing public awareness.

PHOTOS