RICHMOND, Va. — Pastor Linda Ray started playing the handbells when she was 15 years old. But it wasn't that long ago that the Chamberlayne Heights United Methodist Church pastor was too weak to play.
Pastor Ray's routine 2019 mammogram resulted in more screenings and eventually a biopsy. She was diagnosed with Stage One Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.
"They said if I had waited until I felt something, it would have been a whole different diagnosis," Ray said.
When Ray started her cancer treatment at Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, she met her team of doctors.
"Literally all of the doctors that are going to be on your team just come through the room where you are and say this is my specialty," she said.
That process led to the doctors asking Pastor Ray to be part of a clinical trial.
"This clinical trial had nothing to do with medical procedures or drugs or any of that stuff," she said. "It was a qualitative survey about the intake process."
The trial is called Increasing Patient's Engagement in Breast Cancer Surgery Decision Making.
Massey is one of 14 underserved minority sites participating in the study. Nearly 90 Richmond-area women are involved in the study. About a third of those women come from underrepresented backgrounds.
Dr. Vanessa Sheppard is Massey's lead investigator in the study.
She said previous studies have shown racial and ethnic groups, older patients, and patients with fewer financial resources may not be informed enough when it comes to making decisions about their cancer surgery. This study walks patients through the process.
"It's not just the physician making the recommendation and the patient saying OK. I'm going to do that without knowing the why," Dr. Sheppard said. "The long term what we hope is patients will have less regret after making their decision."
For her treatment, Pastor Ray had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. She's now considered to be cancer free.
Dr. Sheppard said doctors are now analyzing the data from patients like Pastor Ray. The study should be complete within a year.