Wendy Cunningham commenced the role of Clinical Research Nurse in the NI Cancer Trials Network (NICTN) in 2003. Since then she has been an amazing advocate and champion for cancer research, co-ordinating over 50 studies and caring for the patients recruited to these trials at the Belfast City Hospital, alongside surgical, oncology and other colleagues. No wonder Wendy has been invited to speak in a national meeting to share her tips on recruitment success!
To mark International Clinical Trials Day on 20 May 2022, we asked Wendy what she enjoys most about her role. Wendy explained, ‘I’ve got time to spend with the patients and it’s very fulfilling. You can help them in lots of ways and you’re with them across a range of settings, whether it’s in surgery, in-patients or out-patients, so you’re like their friend in hospital. They don’t feel abandoned when they go home either, because they can ring you. Wendy continued, ‘You may be dealing with complex cases and it can be really difficult if a patient relapses, but I don’t get burnout because overall you’re helping these people to maybe live a bit longer, to have better quality of life, to have a better experience.’
Over the years Wendy has worked with a number of clinical teams focused on various cancers including gynae, melanoma and prostate cancer. Wendy said, ‘I love working with all the teams. We have good working relationships and respect for each other. There’s great variety too. In gynae I’m co-ordinating studies in surgical, ovarian and endo-cervical teams, caring for cancer patients and also women who are BRCA positive receiving risk reducing surgery.’
Always excited about the positive impact of clinical trials, Wendy described how several trials she has worked on have led to today’s standard care. ‘The Chorus study for instance has demonstrated the value of neoadjuvant chemotherapy in advanced ovarian cancer. PARP inhibitors, a type of targeted treatment, have made a huge difference due to prolonged disease responses for some women. When response to treatment is achieved it can be transforming, and people feel safe having the on-going support of the research team.’ Wendy continued, ‘There has also been a lot of success in prostate cancer such as the radium trials and the studies that have led to the introduction of drugs like Abiraterone, Enzalutamide and Apalutamide.
Asked about the future, Wendy responded, ‘I will continue to be part of the fight against cancer working with the NICTN team. Clinical trials pave the way for advances in the treatment and management of cancer. Much has been achieved but there is much still to do!! I want to thank all the patients who have given the gift of participating in clinical trials, each one is precious! I also want to thank all the staff who work with me, without their interest and support I could not do my job to the best of my abilities.’
The NICTN co-ordinates a number of cancer clinical trials. Details are available at the website https://nictn.hscni.net .