For Nedra Bonds, a cancer diagnosis was never part of the plan. But then again, the Kansas City artist, educator and community activist is pretty good at improvising.

When she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer – a less common and more aggressive form of breast cancer – her reaction of a simple “OK” left her physician speechless.

“I was uniquely calm. These twists and turns, they are all part of the journey,” Nedra says. “I could have cried and screamed and thrown myself on the floor, but it would not have changed anything, and I would have been behind in my planning.”

An unexpected journey

Nedra’s breast cancer journey began in early 2016 when she discovered a lump under her arm. She dismissed it as a reaction to a new deodorant but followed up with her physician for a mammogram. Additional testing confirmed the lump was a genetic form of triple-negative breast cancer.

Nedra began to look for answers. Because triple-negative breast cancer grows faster, is more likely to recur within the first couple of years after treatment, and has a poorer prognosis than other types of breast cancer, Nedra knew she needed to be vigilant in finding highly specialized and expert care. At stage III, her cancer had already spread to surrounding tissue.

Most breast cancer therapies target cell receptors for estrogen, progesterone and/or human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2). But triple-negative breast cancer cells lack receptors for any of these, says Priyanka Sharma, MD, breast medical oncologist at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

“Conventional chemotherapy often does not work well for triple-negative breast cancer. A clinical trial provides hope by exploring methods of treatment beyond standard therapies,” she says.

Finding answers

Nedra discovered she was eligible for a clinical trial led by Dr. Sharma.

Dr. Sharma’s study compared two different regimens of the chemotherapy drug carboplatin in women with triple-negative breast cancer. In the study, carboplatin is administered before surgery with one of two combinations of standard chemotherapy drugs. The purpose was to see if carboplatin – a particular class of chemotherapy drug – was effective in reducing the growth of breast cancer cells.

At the time, the trial was the only one in the region studying this combination in stages 1-3 breast cancer patients. Nedra had no hesitation.

“I’m not here for myself,” she says. “I want to make memories every day for other folks and let my experience be a learning tool for them.”

Along with the trial, Nedra is part of The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s registry of more than 1,000 triple-negative breast cancer patients. The registry, the only one of its kind in the world, includes patient blood samples, tumor tissue, cancer treatment and response information. The information gathered through this registry helps researchers study trends and details to better shape treatment for triple-negative breast cancer.

Healing art

Nedra had chemotherapy, followed by a mastectomy, removal of 26 lymph nodes and radiation. For Nedra, the chemotherapy that she received as part of the clinical trial was very effective and led to complete eradication of the cancer from the breast and the lymph nodes. She is currently cancer-free.

Navigating is second nature to Nedra, who draws from the twists and turns in her life to create personal pieces of art. Ever since she picked up her first quilting needle at the age of six, Nedra has learned to speak through the images her hands create. Her quilts, paintings and other works serve to tell her story and give voice to community issues and causes close to her heart.

Nedra’s most recent creation, “The Hands that Healed Me,” features handprint images from the physicians, nurses and other caregivers who helped her during her cancer journey.

“This is my tribute to the special people who cared for me,” she says. “This is my way of saying to them, ‘What is in your brain is important, but what you do with your hands has gotten me on my feet.’”

This individual participated in a clinical trial of an investigational treatment. Clinical trials are different from standard medical care. As with all research studies, clinical trial participant outcomes vary. Before participating in a clinical trial, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider.