A match made in research sparks an enduring connection

A match made in research sparks an enduring connection

Illuminate newsletter index page, summer-2020-21
December 2020

Dr Lorraine OReilly with Frank (L) and Ronnie Graham
Dr Lorraine O'Reilly shares her research with her consumer
buddy Frank Graham and his wife Ronnie. (Picture taken in
early 2020.)

When WEHI researcher Dr Lorraine O’Reilly met cancer survivor Frank Graham, it sparked an enduring bond and vision to improve the lives of people with stomach cancer.

Lorraine: I got into this area of research purely by accident. I was studying the molecular controls of inflammation using mouse models and noticed that some of the mice appeared to be developing stomach cancers.

I contacted a colleague to do some pathology analysis and we confirmed that it was stomach cancer, which is incredibly rare in animal models.

After that, I set up a collaboration with other researchers at WEHI and in the Parkville biomedical precinct to better understand the link between chronic inflammation and stomach cancer. Everything just fell into place and we’ve been working together ever since then to develop new methods of treating gastric cancer.

Meeting someone who has suffered from the disease you are trying to treat alters your perspective.

Frank spoke about his cancer experience, that he’d had his stomach removed and had undergone various treatments and was now in remission.

Working in research can be quite abstract, you’re assessing disease models or cells in a dish. Meeting someone who has had the disease makes it real.

"Knowing that what I am doing could potentially help people like Frank in the future is indeed very humbling."

WEHI’s consumer buddy program was in its infancy when I was matched up with Frank six years ago. Since then, we’ve developed an incredibly close relationship, I know all about his family and his life and he knows about mine. It has been a real privilege to have him assist in informing my research.

Thanks to feedback from Frank and other consumers I work with, we recently secured $450,000 funding from Cancer Council NSW to continue this vital research.

Frank: I was diagnosed with gastric cancer in 2011 and had my stomach removed. This was followed by three years of treatment.

I was frightened. When I was diagnosed, the survival rate of gastric cancer after the five-year mark was nine per cent. I was just focused on the short-term, not thinking I had long left. But nearly a decade later I’m still here and count myself incredibly lucky.

The first time I met Lorraine I was a bit hesitant. I didn’t know what to expect. But she made me feel at ease. She explained her role at WEHI and the research she did, and we just went from there.

She gave me the opportunity to speak freely about my cancer journey and I got to hear about the research she was doing into stomach cancer. It was fascinating. 

Before then, I’d only ever spoken to doctors about my cancer. Lorraine was completely different. Initially, she spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand but since then I’ve become more au fait with the research terminology.

Working with Lorraine has really changed my perspective on medical research. It’s researchers like Lorraine who are helping people with conditions like mine to live longer and healthier lives.

Lorraine is one of the most dedicated people I have ever met. What she has achieved with her research blows me away.

"It makes me incredibly hopeful for the future knowing there are people like Lorraine working behind the scenes to improve medical treatments and look at achieving longer-term positive outcomes for people with this diagnosis."

It’s my sincere hope that one day other people won’t have to go through what I’ve been through.

Pairing 'consumers' with researchers

If you have experienced an illness, or cared for someone with an illness, we invite you to join our Consumer Buddy program.

As a consumer you can: 

  • Work with a researcher by contributing your life experience
  • Assist researchers with communicating their science in plain language
  • Provide insight into how their research can make a difference in the community
  • Become part of the Institute community with invitations to events and seminars
  • Meet with a your researcher buddy throughout the year for project updates. 

More information

To learn more about joining the Consumer Buddy Program, contact consumer coordinator Katya Gray:

Tel: 03 9345 2981
Email: consumers@wehi.edu.au

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