An Edmonton registered nurse with possibly less than a year left to live is hoping an innovative U.S. clinical trial will save her life.
Shayla Wishloff, 26, has Stage 4 breast cancer. She was diagnosed at Stage 2 in 2019, and endured five months of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, then six weeks of radiation.
It wasn’t enough.
The aggressive triple-negative breast cancer spread to her lymph nodes and lungs. In October 2020, doctors told her she had reached Stage 4, and she didn’t have much time left.
“I was told I had a year to live and that there was nothing in Canada for me,” Wishloff told Global News.
“It’s like a dark tunnel where you don’t see light. There’s no getting out of it. You’re in a prison cell and there’s no way out.”
Earlier this year, Wishloff and her mother travelled to Texas, where specialists recommended a treatment regimen. The drugs cost thousands of dollars per month, and didn’t work for her. The tumours continued to grow.
But Wishloff has been accepted into a promising clinical trial. As early as next week, she will return to the U.S. to start the testing required for TIL therapy. The procedure involves removing a bit of her lung tumour and isolating the tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) that best recognize the tumour. Those immune cells are multiplied in a lab, then returned to her body to attack the cancer.
“(The researchers) are going create a lot of (TILs) and then infuse them back into my body after they give me some chemo, and hopefully it will ignite my immune system to fight this cancer off,” explained Wishloff.
“It’s pretty innovative… it’s cutting-edge technology. It’s the newest stuff out there, and I’m putting all my hope into it.”
Wishloff has been advocating for Stage 4 breast cancer patients through her Instagram account, Pink Cancer Girl.
Up to 30 per cent of women with early stage breast cancer will progress to Stage 4 — or metastatic cancer. Wishloff feels this group needs more treatment options in Canada.
“We shouldn’t have to be flying over to the states, paying these costs. It’s not fair.”
Her family has launched a GoFundMe account to help pay for her treatment and travel costs, which are expected to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Her stepfather says nursing was Wishloff’s dream job. She has always put others before herself, he explained
“She still worries about how it affects (her family) and we’re constantly trying to tell her: ‘Hey Shayla, that’s not your burden to carry,'” Shawn Dechaine told Global News.
“She’s a caregiver. She’s used to taking care of people, not being taken care of. So it’s difficult for her to ask for help.”