London Wafford (Courtesy photo)

I went to a Lunch and Learn event where they were discussing Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) Clinical Trials.  My grandmother actually died from this horrible disease.  When she started having shortness of breath and other symptoms, she decided it was time for a doctor’s visit.

Me, along with the rest of my family heard the words that no one wants to hear from a doctor.  My Grandmother had “Stage Four Small Cell Lung Cancer” with only three months to live.  Our hearts were broken knowing there was nothing we could do but spend every moment we could with her until she passed.

Little did our family know, there may have been a way to give us maybe a little more time with her.  I mean, we had heard of Clinical Trials briefly—maybe on TV, Social Media, etc. but we never thought of it as a way to help prolong a life.  Speaking for myself, I just thought of it as a way to test out drugs and see how it responds to strong and healthy people.  I also thought of it as dangerous and something I would never in a million years do.

But all of those thoughts and feelings came to a holt on January 23, 2024, the day of the Small Cell Lung Cancer Lunch and Learn with I Choose Life Foundation that I attended.  As a person that is skeptical about everything when it comes to medicine, I mean even down to popping an aspirin when I have a severe headache.  It’s like my mind made a complete switch on this subject of Clinical Trials.

First of all, the SCLC Lunch & Learn was filled with some professional and powerful Black women and men and this gave me a great since of comfort.  We all introduced ourselves before the session started and I learned that in that room sitting next to me were Doctors, Nurses, Pastors, Directors, COOs and more.

Now there were also a handful of Whites, Asians, and Hispanics in the building too, but I felt like they were more or less observing and taking notes to better understand how we, as a Black community feel about this subject.  Small Cell Lung Cancer is a very aggressive cancer and spreads very quickly throughout the body.  One point that Dr. King made at the Lunch and Learn that made me call my Mom the very next day, was he said, “If you have been smoking for over 20 – 30 years make sure to ask your doctor for a CT Scan to check for cancer.”

I started thinking about how men get their prostate checked yearly after a certain age and women get their mammograms annually after a certain age.  I believe smokers should also implement a CT Scan as their annual checkup as well.

A Registered Nurse named ‘Tia’, who works in a Clinical Trial setting, stood up to speak and she opened my eyes to the fact that Clinical Trials aren’t just using you as a guinea pig and making you pop pills to see what happens to you.  In her words “Clinical Trials aren’t just about medication—it’s about research, who you are as a person, and what’s going on in your community.”

Sometimes you’re a part of a clinical trial and don’t even know it.  For example, when your doctor prescribes you a medication that you have never taken, and you develop a severe or mild allergic reaction.  I thought to myself WOW she has a point!  It makes so much more sense for some of us to get involved in these clinical trials so that we can have a say about these medications and how it responds to our bodies and when I say bodies, I’m talking about Black bodies!

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m thinking about my four-year-old son, Pharaoh, and his future children and the generations to come.  And yes, white people have a horrible history of doing some unethical and cruel medical studies on Black people, for example The Tuskegee Experient.  But it’s time for us to move past 65 years ago because if we don’t, it will be to our own detriment!  What may put you at ease is that there are now Black people that are in place, that oversee these clinical trials, and they are passionate about saving Black lives.

While listening to the many speakers that night, I began to think about someone I knew that had blood clots that passed through his lungs.  The doctor put him on medication to help keep the blood clots from coming back and the next thing he knew, he was bleeding from his anus. He went straight to the emergency room and the doctor crossed his fingers and prescribed him another medication.

That is what I would call an involuntary clinical trial.  There is no telling how many other Black men went through the same thing with that particular medication.  As we know, we (Black people) aren’t genetically the same as white people.  What may work for white people may be harmful for Black people and I can’t help but think that if more of us participated in these trials, we could not only save lives, but we could also prevent some of these horrific symptoms from happening to us in the first place.

Hearing all these Black medical professionals advocating for Clinical Trials gave me a totally different perspective.  It’s not like they were getting paid to say these things or had something to gain; they were just passionate about Black lives and wanting our community to have some say-so in what goes on behind the scenes with medications and treatments.

Let’s PLEASE think about our future generations!  I have a son and hypothetically speaking—what if he was diagnosed with Lupus as a young child?   Would I put him in a Lupus Clinical Trial that could possibly lessen his symptoms and prolong his life?  Yes, I would there’s no doubt in mind!  I’d be there with an overnight bag if they wanted me to!

Especially knowing now, that I’d be given the best care, I could help in the research of extending someone else’s life, and that I’d also be compensated for my time.  And let’s just say one day I woke up and I felt I couldn’t handle the symptoms of the trial, or I felt it was now too much of an inconvenience.  Whatever my reason may be, I could always decide to remove my son/myself from the trial at any time.

In closing, Tia wanted to share a story about her late husband who was diagnosed with cancer and volunteered to be a part of a clinical trial.  He was given a new medication during the clinical trial that they hoped would help treat the cancer or even prolong life.  Sadly, he started the treatment in the later stage of his cancer diagnosis, and he eventually passed from the cancer.

Before he passed however, it showed that the medication he was given during the trial was starting to shrink the cancer mass in his body.  Before he passed, he spoke about how he was grateful to be able to participate in the study and that his hope, by his participation, could potentially prolong another person’s life.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room after that.  This was a beautiful, eye opening, heartfelt, informative event!  I took away with me so much information and valid points that night and I’m so glad I was there!  I now have knowledge and information that I too can spread to others.