Neglected cancers real lives


At 11 Luke Ryan was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma (cancerous bone tumour) in the back of his left knee. He had 12 months of chemotherapy with five different agents, enduring three-to-five-day hospital stays with breaks of 10 days between each one. He remembers the treatment as ‘A lot, a long time and just beyond horrendous’.

‘Three months in, I had a seven-hour limb salvage operation that left me with a full knee replacement, a slight leg extension and half a dead person’s femur, and without most of my quads. It was not fun.’

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“At 18, I was diagnosed with a rare cancer – gastrointestinal stromal tumours – and given 12 months to live,”

says 40-year-old Sarah McGoram, who is now enrolled in Garvan’s Molecular Screening and Therapeutics clinical trial. “I decided to fight and was determined to stay alive for as long as possible. I have lived and battled cancer for the majority of my life. In that time I have graduated from university, had a teaching career, married my husband Tom and had a beautiful baby boy, George – all while juggling the disease.”

Despite the news being devastating, Sarah was very fortunate to have the correct diagnosis made. Her cancer is so rare that there were only 15 known cases in Australia at the time. Fortunately, research had been published only six months earlier that provided the pathologist with the information he needed to avoid the traditional diagnosis that would have led to ineffective – and possibly deadly – chemotherapy.

Since then, she has transitioned from one drug to another in order to manage her disease. “With every progression of my disease, a new drug therapy has been developed, or surgical technique evolved, giving me the chance to live a little bit longer. I am riding the wave of medical research, and winning.”

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