Incredible donation

28 May 2020

When Cathy Khouri’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1990s, she had a late diagnosis and underwent radical treatment. This was a traumatic time and she was given no choice about her treatment and no option of breast reconstruction.

When Cathy was diagnosed 17 years later, her journey was markedly different. Cathy’s diagnosis was made through a national breast cancer screening programme and her cancer was detected early. Informed consent was very much part of the treatment and care discussions Cathy had with her breast surgeon and other health professionals. The opportunity to discuss her situation with friends and family was quite different from her mother’s experience.

With three adult daughters and a family history of breast cancer, Cathy is reassured that breast cancer treatment continues to be refined and improved through clinical trials research.

Now heading into retirement, dietician Cathy and her husband, dental surgeon Zaf, recently decided to wind-up their charitable trust, which was originally set up to enable continuing professional development for dieticians in the Waikato. Remaining funds from the trust have been donated to the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust (WBCRT). With minimal government funding for research, we rely on the generosity of the community to raise funds and the $21,000+ donation was incredibly generous.

Back left to right: Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust founder Professor Ian Campbell and Zaf Khouri. Front left to right: WBCRT research nurse Jenni Scarlett and Cathy Khouri

With this month marking the 20-year anniversary of research carried out by the WBCRT and having been involved in over 45 clinical trials, there is no doubt that every advance made in treating breast cancer has been the result of research. These advancements include better drug treatments; both chemotherapy and hormonal therapies; improvements in radiotherapy, breast-conserving surgery instead of mastectomy, the development of sentinel node surgical techniques instead of axillary dissection, and reducing treatment side effects and improving quality of life.

“Research ensures evidence-based best practice and Waikato researchers want the best for those in our region diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Professor Ian Campbell, Trust founder and breast surgeon.

“As we progress beyond 2020, the WBCRT is enabling clinical trials which are individualising treatments more to the specific features of each different type of breast cancer. For example, drug treatments are becoming more targeted to specific growth factors of a tumour. As technology develops there are specialised laboratory tests that can examine multiple aspects of a tumour.  The results of these tests will help guide oncology doctors to select future patients who will or won’t benefit from treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.”

The most common reason given by women for deciding to participate in a clinical trial is that they want to help provide more information for future generations of their family. With their donation, Cathy and Zaf are also wanting to make a difference for future generations of Waikato women.

More than 400 Waikato women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and Cathy’s own experience has given her some powerful insights into what this is like.  

“When cancer happens, the whole family and everyone who loves them is effected. It has positively changed the way I live the rest of my life. With support and expert advice, I was able to make tough decisions, the results of which were not at the expense of my femininity. I am thankful I have a life after breast cancer; for me early detection was key.”