When Shannon learned that her mother, Laurie, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she braced herself. As a daughter, she was scared. But as a scientist, she was hopeful knowing there were advances in medicine happening every day. Learn how Shannon helped her mother through the clinical trial journey.

By the time the final available chemotherapy treatment failed to stop her mom’s quickly spreading cancer, and doctors confirmed that there were no remaining treatment options for Laurie, Shannon was already researching clinical trials. “One thing that a clinical trial can do is provide hope,” she says.

She found a clinical trial suitable for her mom that was aimed at people with advanced breast cancer who have an abnormal BRCA gene. It was available in numerous cities, including in Portland, Oregon, where Shannon lived. Her mom enrolled and was accepted. Every three weeks for just shy of six years, starting in 2015, Laurie traveled hundreds of miles from Alberta, Canada to Portland, Oregon to take part in the trial.


Over those six years, the clinical trial gave the mother and daughter time together. Time for Shannon to act as caregiver to her mother when she felt sick. And, when Laurie felt better, time for her to care for her two granddaughters—who are now 4 and 9—when Shannon needed help.

It’s also given them time in a much more literal sense—time that they didn’t know they’d have, before the trial began. Time that is still a gift, even as the trial goes on. “It took her from hopeless to hopeful,” says Shannon.

Shannon is grateful that she’s been able to help her mom throughout this medical journey. With her scientific background, and because of her proximity, initially, to the trial, she feels as though she was in the right place at the right time to give her mother the support, guidance and caregiving that she needed. But even before that, Shannon attended many doctor’s appointments with her mom via teleconference, so that she could ask questions and help her mom to understand what was happening to her and what her options were. Shannon was involved, regardless of distance.

As the years have passed in the clinical trial, and hope has returned, Laurie has gone from avoiding long-term planning to embracing it. Today, she lives in the moment. But Shannon knows that just beneath the surface, her mom harbors some unavoidable fears about her health and her future. And when those concerns arise, Shannon turns, as she always has, to science.

“I try to relieve her anxieties by just explaining to her the speed at which science is moving,” she says. “Should this stop working in one year, or 10 years or more, there’s going to be another clinical trial for her to try.”

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