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Meet the Survivor: Sarah Jane

Intro text: 

On the "Finely Tuned Radiotherapy" trial

Could you tell us about yourself?

My name is Sarah Jane. I’m 48 years old, divorced and living with my 18-year-old son in Melbourne.  I work full-time at the Lost Dogs Home, the largest animal shelter in Australia.  I have worked there caring for cats and dogs, on and off for about 17 years.  Although I have a nursing degree, I decided to dedicate myself to work with animals.

How did you feel when you learned about your breast cancer diagnosis?

My mother had a DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, or non-invasive breast cancer), so that prompted me to start having mammograms when I was in my early 40s.  So I was enrolled in the breast screening program run by St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.  At the age of 45, I went in for a mammogram, and afterwards I got a letter saying they wanted me to come back in.  The doctor said it was a DCIS.  As I was studying nursing at the time, I understood it was a better diagnosis than invasive breast cancer, so I didn’t panic.  I felt that I was in good hands, and I thought that it could be a lot worse.

How did you come to find out about the “Finely Tuned Radiotherapy” study?

My doctors suggested surgery followed by radiotherapy treatment at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center.  There, I met Dr. Claire Phillips, who suggested that I join the DCIS study. Participating in the study gave me access to different options for my radiotherapy treatment.

What do you feel has been the main benefit of taking part in the study?

By joining the study, I was able to receive just 3 weeks of radiotherapy, at a high dosage for a shorter amount of time than the usual course of therapy. It was so much more convenient at that time in my life. I was studying full time and was in the middle of exams, and I was also working at the same time, so this made my life much easier.  The detailed explanations I received from the doctors were amazing, and having all this information was reassuring to both me and my son.

The follow-up with my doctor continues even today, so I continue to feel safe.  I expect to be followed up for 10 years, and I’ll be going back in August to see Dr. Phillips.  The last time I saw her, she actually found another lump which fortunately turned out to be benign, but it was reassuring that she was there to find and diagnose it.

How do you think patients in general benefit from taking part in trials like this?

It was an experience that could have been really frightening, but the way the whole trial was run, with such attention to detail, I felt very well supported.  If you had any questions or anxiety, you could ask the doctors about it and feel better.  It makes patients’ lives a lot easier during a difficult time.  The study is so focused on DCIS that you feel that you’re in the very best hands. 

Why is this trial so important?

It’s so beneficial across the board for everybody involved – for the people doing the research, for the people involved in the trial, and for people across the world who have DCIS.  I was really happy to join and am so glad that I was a part of it – it’s a good feeling being part of something global that will help science and help patients in the future. Today I am healthy and I am able to look at this as another experience that adds to the tapestry of my life.