When Alex Bruna was a teenager, her dad asked a question that would change her life.
He had a rare type of leukaemia and the treatments were not working, some were making him very ill. He turned to his family and asked, ‘Don’t they know what to give me?’
Alex watched her dad, Juan Carlos, fight the disease for nine years, he died when he was just 48. Alex never could forget that question and she became determined to find the answer.
Alex, 43, is now Dr Bruna. And she is funded by Cancer Research UK to find out why some patients fail to respond to the treatments that work for so many others.
And as well as carrying out pioneering work into personalised cancer treatments, Alex is fundraising for Cancer Research UK herself. In June she scaled the Cavall Bernat mountain, in Barcelona, in just over three hours. It was a daredevil 240 metre (787 feet) climb and Alex raising over £1,400.
On Sunday (8th July) she will take on the 10K Cambridge Race for Life in the city, joining thousands of other women and children to raise money for vital cancer research.
Alex hopes more women will come forward and sign up to join her for the 5k and 10k Race for Life events. For the first time they start and finish on Jesus Green. Sign up now at raceforlife.org
Alex said: “I was about 13 when my dad was diagnosed with leukaemia, he had a very rare type of the cancer. My dad was given three months at first, he lived for nine years. He was in and out of hospitals for most of my teenage years. He was given seven or eight types of treatment. They were trying to help him but the treatments he received almost killed him a couple of times. At one point he said, ‘Don’t they know what to give me?’
“It made me realise that treatments are not always beneficial and can cause harm. And for some people those treatments worked, but not for my dad. From that I understood some people with the same type of cancer will live and some will not. I wanted to understand why that was.
“Since then a good friend of mine died of Gliobastoma, there were no options for him. My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer – ten years ago she would’ve been told to go home and make a will – but they knew that Herceptin was the right drug for her. This has shown me again how important personalised treatment is – how we must find the right treatment for each patient. Also, until we know how many types of cancers there are and understand them, we will struggle to make the next step. This is why research is so very important.”
Alex decided to fundraise for Cancer Research UK as the charity’s work is reliant on donations. Cambridge is also a major research hub for the charity, last year it invested over £40m in local research.
Originally from Spain, Alex has made Cambridge her home. She lives in the city with her two sons.
Alex is based at the CRUK Cambridge Institute in Professor Carlos Caldas’ lab. The lab made a major breakthrough in recent years, discovering that breast cancer has at least 10 different genetic subtypes - each subtype has a distinctive genetic and molecular fingerprint and each has different weak spots which can be targeted.
Alex’s research project is also pioneering. By creating a living cancer cell library in mice, Alex and her team are able to better preserve the tissue samples and increase the accuracy of research results.
And they can start afresh with each tumour, allowing them to see how the patient would respond to different drugs, including those not available for those with early stage cancer.
But on Sunday, Alex will swap her lab coat for a Race for Life top and run alongside the many local women who fundraise to make her work possible. Like many of them she will have a very personal reason for running – to remember those she has lost to disease and to help the patients of the future survive.
Alex says: “I have run Race for Life in the past a number of times, I did it when my sons were very young and in their pushchairs. It is an overwhelming and emotional day. You see the back signs and why people take part. I wear my, I’m a scientist top, people will stop and talk to me, tell me - well done. It really gets to me, I find it very emotional.
“I decided to do my climb because I tried climbing for the first time earlier this year and I felt anxious and very unsure of everything. It made me think about how a cancer patient must feel at diagnosis. It made me want to do more to help with fundraising and a climb seemed the right way to do it.”
To support Alex, visit: https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/dreambig-climbing-challenge
To sign up for Race for Life, visit: https://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/