4 minute read  •  Research, Patient Stories

Giving the gift of time – cancer research

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This story shows us how vital cancer research is…

Five people in Australia are expected to die from melanoma today* 

Melanoma is now the third most common cancer in Australian men and women. This year almost 14,000 people are predicted to be diagnosed with melanoma. And even more concerning is that melanoma has become known as Australia’s national cancer. It has some of the highest rates of skin cancer diagnoses in the world.

For those who have been and will be affected by melanoma in their lifetime, Mater strongly believes in creating hope for their futures. However, the one way we can do this is through research.

Mater Research

Mater’s world-class research institute—Mater Research—delivers vital medical and clinical research. This research aims to translate its findings from ‘bench to bedside’ as quickly as possible. Therefore, this directly benefits patients at Mater, across Australia and around the world.

Right now, a number of promising and world-leading melanoma research projects are underway. This includes Professor Brian Gabrielli’s project that aims to understand melanoma and its treatment.

Professor Gabrielli and his team at Mater Research are investigating how a molecular mechanism responsible for the normal repair of UV damage is often ‘broken’ in melanomas. They are researching to see if this damaged repair mechanism can be ‘exploited’ for treatment. This is done by selectively killing the cancer cells with the damaged repair mechanism. Therefore leaving the healthy cells unharmed.

Professor Gabrielli’s Research

“Once we understand the nature of the damaged mechanism, we can devise new treatments to specifically target those defective cells,” Professor Gabrielli said.

If this is successful, it may be possible to use an increase in UV mutations as a marker of a broken repair mechanism that can be drugged to selectively eliminate melanoma cells. Therefore leaving normal ‘healthy’ cells unharmed. And also preventing further spread of the disease.

“We’re looking to target these cells in a different way, where only cancerous tissue is targeted. But the normal tissue is pretty much left intact. This means fewer side effects for the patient. We now have good evidence that this approach will work, and hopefully will be of benefit to patients,” Professor Gabrielli said.

More time for more memories

In conclusion, these advancements could give melanoma patients more time with their loved ones to create lasting memories. Something that 28-year-old Serge is truly grateful for.

Shortly after Serge and his wife Emma began dating in 2013, Emma received some difficult news—she had melanoma.

Initially doctors were optimistic. However the prognosis quickly become more serious. Then Emma was told she and Serge would only have three months together.

“As time progressed, Emma was diagnosed to Stage 4 melanoma and it was a terminal diagnosis. I don’t exactly remember that specific moment in time but I do remember being with her and I just remember feeling like as long as we’re together that’s what matters. And that’s where things just felt right; me being with her and having our time together,” said Serge.

“But Emma took the news pretty hard. She felt that I didn’t sign up to be with someone who had a terminal diagnosis and needed a lot of care and help. She suggested that I should jump ship—that it wasn’t fair for me to hang around.”

Beautiful Wedding Vows

But Serge didn’t jump ship … instead he proposed. And two months after her terminal diagnosis Serge and Emma were married. Their wedding vows reflecting their uncertain future:

My wish for you is comfort on difficult days,
smiles when sadness intrudes,
rainbows to follow the clouds,
patience to accept the truth,
love to complete your life.

Sadly, Serge lost his beloved wife Emma after three years fighting melanoma. She was just 25.

But in the three years before her passing, Emma committed herself to raising awareness of melanoma and raising funds for research.

Emma’s Legacy

Now Serge has taken on her legacy.

“I choose to support Mater Foundation because it’s such a great cause. Cancer research gave Emma more treatment options compared to those diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma a couple of years earlier. More treatment options gave Emma and I more time together. More time together allowed us to get a puppy, and to buy and renovate our home, and raise more awareness—it allowed us to make more memories.”

Because of cancer research, Emma and Serge were able to turn three months into three years.

Your support of the Mater Cars for Cancer lottery helps to drive vital medical research like Professor Gabrielli’s, to help give more families, like Emma and Serge, more time to make lasting memories. 

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*Source: melanoma.org.au

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