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Surviving and Thriving: Research Gives Patient Second Chance at Life


Nurse. Mother. Grandmother. Donna Buck is no stranger to leading a busy life; however, a diagnosis of an advanced form of cancer stopped her in her tracks. In October 2016, Donna learned that she had stage 3b breast cancer, and that rigorous and immediate treatment was on the horizon. Given her clinical background, she knew that her recent diagnosis warranted a second opinion.

Donna sought the expertise of Anna Maria Storniolo, MD, a nationally-recognized clinical researcher and professor of clinical medicine at IU School of Medicine. Rather than recommending chemotherapy, Dr. Storniolo had something else in mind. She presented Donna with the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial that would allow her to avoid chemotherapy altogether, and instead, would utilize two drugs proven to block the development of cancer cells.

“Trastuzumab and pertuzumab are both antibodies against the HER2 protein, which is a protein associated with about 30 percent of breast cancers and is what characterized Donna’s cancer,” Dr. Storniolo explained. “Prior research we’ve participated in showed that there are some patients who respond extremely well to this targeted therapy alone, and chemotherapy isn’t even necessary. The trial Donna participate in pursued that concept, and Donna’s response to the therapy was exceptional.”

Today, Donna is steadily recovering beyond surgery, radiation and infusions, and is scheduled for reconstructive surgery this November. In addition, she’ll avoid experiencing the life-long, debilitating side effects that can result from chemo including nerve pain, hearing loss and heart damage.

“This is an excellent example of how far breast cancer research has come, and how research translates into treatment changes,” Dr. Storniolo said. “Breakthroughs like this would not be possible without clinical research, and without brave and generous patients like Donna.”


Today, many women with cancer are able to be cured of their disease; however, the cost associated with the cure can be high. Investigators in the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research Laboratories are studying how to make treatments that allow women to not only survive, but thrive.

Over 3 million breast cancer survivors are alive today thanks to research. Brutal treatments can leave many of them with life-altering and sometimes life-threatening side effects, including neuropathy, heart disease and early menopause. Monogrammed Medicine researchers can now predict which women will have a negative response to commonly used cancer drugs. From there, physicians can avoid those drugs or find ways to minimize the side effects.

Some cancers are now being treated successfully without chemotherapy. IU School of Medicine research is also leading to a reduced number of surgeries a woman must undergo. Researchers are also investigating whether chemotherapy and radiation treatment can safely and effectively be given together, potentially cutting months off the amount of time a woman has to put her life on hold.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

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