The Gift

It’s a cold South Dakota winter afternoon, but Kathleen Lunde’s Sioux Falls home is warm. Warm from sign on the wall, sharing a family message. Warm from her smile. And warm from the generous attitude she offers. “We aren’t on this planet by ourselves,” she says and chuckles. “That’s kinda mean, isn’t it? But it’s the truth.”

Meet her and you wouldn’t think Kathleen has a mean bone in her body. In fact, she dedicates her time and talents to others. Like the beaded bracelets she makes when she finds a spare moment in her busy day. “I love to make things. I am the queen of making something out of nothing.” She doesn’t have many bracelets to show off because she’s only kept a few for herself. The rest have been gifts.

Clinical trials

Even when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer following her 53rd birthday, Kathleen found a way to continue to give. “It was something I could do to help,” she said. “Even if it wouldn’t help me.”

That help came in the form of a clinical trial. Kathleen’s physician, Dr. Maria Bell, suggested she participate in a clinical trial. A clinical trial involves volunteer patients, willing to try new forms of treatment or prevention. They aim to find a cure, reduce the risks of cancer or improve quality of life. No placebos are given. A patient always receives the standard of care. For Kathleen it meant she would receive eight chemotherapy treatments, instead of the prescribed six. She said it was a no brainer, “It’s an opportunity to help yourself and help other people.”

Kathleen isn’t sure if she can attribute her 1st remission to the clinical trial. But she certainly doesn’t think it hurt. Since her initial diagnosis in 2002, she has faced cancer two more times. And each time she has done better and lived longer than predicted. She is now 62 years old. “Every day I wake up and think ‘Wow! I’m still here.’”

Increasing participation

Sanford Cancer’s rate of patient participation in clinical trials is higher than the national average. Regardless there is still a desire, a need, to get more people to take part in the research. “We are trying to advance cancer treatment and the only way we can do that is if patients with cancer are willing to participate in this level of treatment,” says Sanford physician, Dr. Miroslaw Mazurczak.

Some people don’t qualify for the clinical trials. Others aren’t covered by insurance. And still others have fears about them. Fears Kathleen is dedicated to calming. “It’s so important: anything anybody can do to better the long-term survival of cancer.” said Kathleen. “Sometimes it can make you have a better quality of life.” “Kathleen is living today,” adds Dr. Mazurczak. “She is living proof that being in a clinical trial can help a patient live longer and live well.”

Spirit of giving

Even though she’ll never be cured, even though she knows her cancer will one day return, even though she will inevitably face treatment again, Kathleen tells her story with a smile. Kathleen says she’s always been a positive person with a focus on giving. But her three cancer diagnoses helped her face her mortality and appreciate all the “little things” like time with family, the gift of a hand-made bracelet, a beautiful winter morning despite its chill. “I’m not afraid to die,” she smiled and said. “I just don’t want to.”

Learn more about Sanford Cancer.

Posted Date: January 2011

The Gift

Kathleen Lunde believes that participation in a clinical trial has helped her go into cancer remission three times. She also believes she’s advanced science for future cancer patients.