Garvan Breakthrough magazine - Aug 2018

Sarah’s Story Living with a rare cancer that only has experimental treatments has framed Sarah McGoram’s life – but she has never let it dictate her limits.

“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.” Transforming lives through research “What is clear from Sarah’s story is that science has the power to completely transform lives, turning a death sentence into a rich, productive life by any measure,” says Professor David Thomas, head of Garvan’s Cancer Division. “The challenge is to bring science into medicine in time frames that are meaningful to families like George, Tom and Sarah. That is what we are working to do.”

While Sarah has plenty to do in surviving with her disease every day, she doesn’t stop there. “Medical research and clinical trials in areas like genomic medicine and immunotherapy could hold the key to finding personalised treatments and ultimately a cure to our diseases,” she says. “I so appreciate the support that companies like Paspaley, AccorHotels and Vodafone give to clinical trials. It means people like me can contribute to medical research and access the latest treatments.” Sarah fundraised to help others when she climbed Mount Kosciuszko this year. “I’ve now lived with cancer for 22 years. In that time I have had dozens of months when I have been extremely sick and four moments when I came terrifyingly close to dying – but I didn’t. I am still here fighting for a cure, fighting for more funding for research, fighting for equitable treatment for all cancer patients, fighting for more time with Tom and our son George and fighting for time to return to teaching and contribute to our community. Watch out world: I’ve got a whole lot of living left to do.”

Find out how you can help fund projects to support people like Sarah at garvan.org.au/donate .

Above: Sarah and son George. Right: Atop Mt Kosciuszko with Professor David Thomas (left) and fellow rare cancer sufferer Matt Owen.

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