August 13, 2019
Participating in a clinical trial helped retired high school chorus teacher Judy Bowser face the music when diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer.
The decision may have saved her life.
“I wanted to leave no stone unturned, and a clinical trial was one more weapon we could use,” Judy says. “I jumped at the opportunity to enroll.”
Her cancer journey began in April 2008. Life was sweet: She was retired after 32 years as a music educator in school and church settings. She and her husband, Tom, reveled in being "Opa" and "Granny" to 4 young grandchildren. They were active in civic causes and traveled frequently from Olathe, Kansas, to a second home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
With no family history of breast cancer, Judy wasn’t overly concerned when she felt an odd lump on her ribcage, deep in her breast. “But when I saw my doctor’s face, I knew I had cancer,” Judy says. Extensive testing followed before she met with oncologist Priyanka Sharma, MD, at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.
Judy was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. Compared to other types of breast cancers, it grows faster, is more likely to recur within the first couple of years after treatment and has a poorer prognosis. At stage II, Judy’s tumor was already about the size of her thumb.
Among the treatment options was a clinical trial Dr. Sharma was conducting. The Bowsers’ physician son, Chris, strongly urged Judy to enroll. “I told them, ‘OK, I’m in. Let’s go,’ ” Judy remembers. “It really empowered me to feel there was something I could do.”
The study was to determine if platinum chemotherapy – administered prior to surgery in combination with a targeted oral medication – was more effective than the standard therapy. At that time, Dr. Sharma led the only clinical trial in the country studying this combination in stage I-III patients.
Most commonly used breast cancer therapies target cell receptors for estrogen, progesterone and/or HER2. But triple negative breast cancer cells lack receptors for any of these three. Dr. Sharma is among leading researchers studying ways to improve treatment for this cancer, which accounts for about 15% of breast cancers.
“I remember thinking I was so fortunate to be at this cancer center, at this time, when this trial was open and I was eligible,” Judy says.
Instead of shrinking Judy’s tumor, the treatment eliminated it. A lumpectomy cleaned the site, and radiation treatments followed.
That was 7 years ago.
“Judy’s cancer was completely eradicated with this chemotherapy regimen,” Dr. Sharma says. “She is now cured from this aggressive breast cancer.” Clinical trial results were encouraging, she adds, as half the patients achieved complete or near complete response.
“I feel really good about participating,” Judy says. “Thousands of women before me were willing to be in clinical trials so better treatments would be available to me. I wanted to pay it forward.”
Beating breast cancer with clinical trials
Thanks to clinical trials, patients like Judy Bowser are able to write their next chapter.
Clinical trials study new ways to prevent, detect or treat disease and are at the heart of all medical advances.
Eligible participants have the opportunity to receive the most promising new therapies and emerging treatment approaches not yet available to the general public. All standard medical treatments used today were once tested in clinical trials.
At The University of Kansas Cancer Center – the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center – patients have access to more clinical trials than any other cancer center in the area. All trial participants receive leading-edge care from a specialized multidisciplinary care team.
Find a clinical trial.
Clinical trials give you an opportunity to try new therapies that might not otherwise be available. Search our clinical trials.