Clinical trials give our researchers and clinicians crucial evidence about the effect of new or experimental cancer treatments to guide our advances in cancer care. For patients like John Mailes, diagnosed in 2001 with a rare cancer which at that time had no effective treatment, a clinical trial can also deliver a new lease on life.

When John celebrated his 80th birthday this month it was a milestone his family felt extremely grateful to see, as explained by his daughter Judy in a letter to Victoria’s Health Minister Jill Hennessy.

Excerpts from Judy’s letter are published here with permission as Peter Mac marks International Clinical Trials Day, on 20 May.

“Dear Ms Hennessy,

I am writing on behalf of my Father, John Mailes, to thank you and your government for the recent announcement in February 2017 of $5.2 million dollars in research grants to fund research and clinical trials into areas of great community need such as Advanced Melanoma, Prostate Cancer, Head and Neck Cancer; and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

My family has been the beneficiaries of such research trials. My father is a survivor of a Gastrointestinal Stomal Cell Tumour (GIST) that was effectively ‘cured’ by the ground-breaking and indeed, life-saving drug Imatinib (Glivec).

Because it is rare and often looks like other sarcomas, Dad was diagnosed incorrectly at first and a cascade of coincidences led us to the trial at Peter MacCallum and the wonderful research team led by Prof Grant McArthur.”

Judy wrote it was “very tense time” as her father - then aged 64 - was enrolled in the clinical trial but “Dad responded well to the drug, having only a few side effects”.

“The tumours that had seeded his peritoneum in his abdomen, shown terrifyingly on his CT scan in August, that threatened to kill him by Christmas 2001, were rapidly reducing in size and then completely disappeared.

To this day, while he takes the drug, and it remains effective for his particular tumours, he is and will be cancer free. With the ongoing research that your government is contributing funds toward, second and third line drugs have become available, so if the Imatinib stops being effective Dad has other options to try.

Dad has been free of cancer for 16 years. He was able to work until he was over 70 years-old, has seen all of his nine grandchildren grow into kind, responsible and successful adults and has been enjoying life as a great-grandfather to Rosie, who turns three next week.”

When John’s family and friends gathered for his 80th birthday earlier this month, Prof Grant McArthur was among those celebrating his milestone.

As we mark International Clinical Trials Day, Peter Mac would like to thank John and all patients, and their families, who have participated in clinical trials.

Every patient who participates in a trial adds to our knowledge and to the future care of cancer patients. We thank you for your support, time and commitment.