DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS

Cheryl Vial - Finding hope in Advancing Lung Cancer Research

Image of Cheryl Vial.
Photos and text used with permission of Cheryl Vial.

As a registered respiratory therapist, Cheryl Vial coughed up some blood on July 5, 2000, and thought: "Oh my, somebody has exposed me to tuberculosis." A chest X-ray showed instead a mass in her right-upper lung that was starting to grow into the tracheal/right main stem bronchi. She was diagnosed with inoperable stage IIIB adenocarcinoma. She was a past smoker and as a child in 1974 had been exposed to a major radiation spill at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (her family lived on the site, as her father was an employee). Both her father and brother have since died of lung cancer. It was unclear if her mother had cancer, as she died of a non-related congenital brain aneurysm.

Cheryl had worked as a therapist at Oregon Health Sciences University (now Oregon Health & Science University), and several physicians she knew there referred her to Dr. Helen Ross. At that time, Dr. Ross was one of the few physicians working with lung cancer. Cheryl was enrolled in the SouthWest Oncology Group (SWOG) protocol by Dr. Ross. Following treatment, the tumor remained, though much smaller, as the chemo- and radiation therapy she received caused it to shrink.

Cheryl first became involved in outreach as a respiratory therapist in 2009 for the local Oregon chapter of the American Lung Association. After discussing her story with cancer at a conference, she was asked if she would be interested in volunteering to help with some lung cancer projects; that was when she learned about the DoD CDMRP and LCRP. Having worked at a teaching hospital, she was aware of the need for research and teaching in the medical field, and she felt that her background as a respiratory therapist, lung cancer patient, and consumer of medical services would provide helpful insight. Shortly after, she was accepted as a consumer reviewer for the LCRP and was immediately hooked on participating!

While working with the LCRP, she was impressed with the types of studies being proposed. She was not only impressed, but amazed, at the progress being made because of these awards. She highlighted that:

"The dedicated physicians and scientists who are attacking lung cancer through these projects give us hope that a cure is possible, and I know that huge steps are being made with these studies."

"As a consumer reviewer, I was struck by the sincerity with which my fellow panel members read my comments and listened to my concerns and genuinely took them into consideration in deliberations. My experience really has solidified the notion that the consumer/patient advocate is an integral part of the discussion and an active participant in the process. Over the past year, I travelled to a couple of onsite meetings and once again have been impressed with the quality of scientific reviewers, who were not only welcoming and friendly, but attentive to what we lay reviewers had to say."

She expressed her appreciation for the DoD CDMRP. She said through her work with the LCRP, she saw how early studies had advanced to novel treatment regimens. She spoke of hope because of the dedicated scientists and physicians who are working diligently on lung cancer. Although cures are rare, progress is moving forward and she was glad to be a part of it. She emphasized that "without the dedicated folks who tackle cancer research, such hope would not exist." In April 2015, Cheryl had a recurrence of metastatic adenocarcinoma in the lung with a Stage IV diagnosis. The diagnosis was somewhat of a shock after 15 years in remission. Cheryl lost her battle with lung cancer on November 22nd, 2015.

The CDMRP programs focus on a range of cancers and other diseases. Though military personnel and their beneficiaries are certainly a prime target population of much of the research funded through CDMRP, the general population also derives great benefit from the work. Cheryl encouraged anyone with an interest in being a consumer reviewer to actively volunteer.

"A medical background is not necessary, and your thoughts on how a successful study could impact the community, military, or patients are very important to the study and scientists working the proposal. It is a very rewarding process and you will not regret the time you put in."

Last updated Friday, July 21, 2017