Immunotherapy: The clinical trial that gave Valerie hope after devastating prognosis

Valerie Davis

Valerie Davis

Lung cancer is our nation’s second leading cause of death, taking more lives than dementia and diabetes, yet it receives very little publicity, funding, research or support. BMS Australia has supported Lung Foundation Australia (LFA) for over 20 years to remove this stigma and develop treatments to improve the diagnosis, outcomes, and quality of life for patients.

In 2018, Valerie Davis from Western Australia (WA) was diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer, with a grim prognosis that she describes as, “shattering and devastating”. After a long period trying to come to terms with and understand her diagnosis, her doctor discovered the clinical trial that would later save her life.

This year, she bravely shared her story by collaborating with BMS Australia and Lung Foundation Australia to create a podcast that makes information easier to digest for patients, like her, facing immunotherapy and chemotherapy.

The diagnosis aftershock

After Valerie and her family received the heartbreaking news that she had two years to live at best, she recalls reaching out to WA telephone support service during a time where she felt in turmoil and vulnerable. “Every experience is different, but I encourage every patient to reach out for support because they were remarkable. I’ve built a strong relationship with them to this day.”

Soon after her diagnosis, Valerie did not hold back from educating herself by asking her doctor questions, which helped clarify the whole situation for herself and her family: “I was reassured, and I felt very safe. And from that point, I gained more and more positivity and strength from knowing what I knew.”

Valerie with her family

Valerie with her family

Immunotherapy clinical trial provides hope

Fortunately, Valerie was given hope when an oncologist contacted her doctor, Professor Feeney, with an opportunity for her to participate in an immunotherapy clinical trial at St John of God Murdoch Hospital, to which she has responded positively: “I was one of only four people in WA to participate in the trial, one of 19 in Australia, and 770 worldwide. It’s extraordinary.”

Valerie began treatment in November 2018, and after six weeks her first check-up scan showed her tumour was shrinking. After six months of treatment, Valerie’s tumour had shrunk by 70%.

Valerie suggests knowledge and connection is power and urges patients to seek out resources and reach out to others widely in case there is a suitable clinical trial available to them.

Coping with ongoing lung cancer treatment

While participating in the clinical trial, Valerie learnt that immunotherapy works differently to chemotherapy when eliminating cancer, so the side effects are also very different. Immunotherapy is designed to boost the body’s natural defences by reinvigorating an exhausted immune system so it can better find and attack cancer cells.

Valerie's first two treatments were a combination of two immunotherapies and chemotherapy, which she underwent in November and December 2018. In January 2019, as part of the clinical trial plan, she stopped the chemotherapy but has continued with two immunotherapies since then.

Today, Valerie is still undergoing treatment and fighting her battle with cancer. But there’s one coping mechanism that she relies on the most: “I find things that I'm grateful for during the day and that helps me cope with it. There is so much to be thankful for.

“I partnered with BMS and Lung Foundation Australia to create the podcast to give back because I’m tremendously grateful for all the support I’ve received. A diagnosis brings a world full of unknowns and I hope this resource helps other patients and their families.”

To hear Valerie’s story and find out more about immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and the most common side effects, listen to our new lung cancer podcast.

Understanding lung cancer treatment

Episode 1: Immunotherapy and chemotherapy
Episode 2: Immunotherapy side effects

Living with lung cancer

Episode 3: Struggles, mental health, and coping
Episode 4: Relationships and support networks

If you or a loved one is looking for support, Lung Foundation Australia offers information and support services to all Australians living with lung cancer, their families, and carers. To find out how Lung Foundation Australia can support you visit their website or call on 1800 654 301.

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