A CANCER scientist diagnosed with the disease for the third time has issued a plea for people to support research after the devastating blow to funding caused by coronavirus.

As told previously in the Glasgow Times, Dr Zuzana Brabcova owes her life to research after twice surviving cervical cancer.

But the 34-year-old was given the awful news two weeks ago that her cancer has begun to spread in her lymph nodes, and to her spine and liver.

And the scientist, who is funded by Cancer Research UK, is worried about the threat the funding gap poses to future breakthroughs.

Zuzana has just started six rounds of chemotherapy drugs called carboplatin and capecitabine.

Cancer Research UK scientists discovered carboplatin, one of the most successful cancer drugs ever developed.

And the charity played a role in clinical trials of capecitabine.

Zuzana, from Anniesland, said: “As a cancer scientist, and someone who has cancer, I know first-hand just how vital new discoveries are to help people survive the disease.

“This is the third time I’ve had to have treatment for cancer, and I am trying a different drug this time which will hopefully reduce the size of my tumours and help get my cancer back under control.

“But, because of Covid-19, research into cancer is facing a crisis where years and even decades worth of work could be lost in a matter of months.

“It makes me worried for people like me in the future that progress on developing new cancer treatments is being slowed down by the impact of the virus.”

With her own research currently on pause due to the pandemic, Zuzana, who works at the Cancer Research UK Glasgow Centre at Glasgow University, is backing an urgent new appeal from Cancer Research UK for donations to help get life-saving work back on track.

Following the cancellation of fundraising events like Race for Life, the charity is expecting a staggering £160 million drop in income in the year ahead.

As a result, Cancer Research UK has had to make the difficult decision to cut £44m in research funding, but this is likely to be just the beginning.

Zuzana, originally from the Czech Republic, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2016 after noticing some abnormal bleeding.

Glasgow Times:

She said: “It was like a big lorry hit me when they told me I had cancer. I thought they must be wrong, they must be talking about a different patient.

“I just sat staring at them. I didn’t feel like they were talking about me.”

She was treated with intensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which made her very unwell but, by February 2017, she was given the all-clear.

Then a physicist at Northumbria University, Newcastle, Zuzana felt driven by her experience to look for a new job in cancer research.

She moved to Glasgow in May 2017 to begin her new role as a data scientist at the Cancer Research UK Glasgow Centre, where she works in a team researching new ways to treat a type of blood cancer called chronic myeloid leukaemia.

But only six months later, in November 2017, doctors at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre gave her the news at a check-up that her cancer had returned and it had spread to her lymph nodes.

Faced with six more rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, it was a further blow when Zuzana was told the treatment this time would cause her to lose her waist-length hair.

Determined to “strike back” against cancer, Zuzana took the brave decision to shave her head before her treatment started.

She donated more than 60cm of her hair to the Little Princess Trust, as well as raising more than £2100 for Cancer Research UK and the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre in Glasgow.

Scans after finishing her second round of treatment showed Zuzana’s cancer was not completely gone, but her tumours were smaller and her cancer was stable.

She said: “The doctors told me that the cancer might stay incurable, but it would be manageable. I refused to act like a sick person.

“After finishing the treatment, I was so glad to get back to focusing on my research. And being able to travel again – travelling is one of my passions.

“My fiancé, Mirek, and I went to Spain and I was excited to be able to attend scientific conferences in Cambridge, and Miami.

“I also love to exercise, and I was determined to get my fitness back up again.”

In an inspirational display of her determination, just six weeks after her last round of chemotherapy, Zuzana ran the 2018 Race For Life Glasgow 5K in under 30 minutes to raise funds for Cancer Research UK.

Doctors have been monitoring Zuzana with CT scans every three months, and a scan in April this year showed her cancer was still stable.

But, not long afterwards, she started to feel unwell with pain in her back and hips and swelling in her leg.

On July 9, she was admitted to the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, where a CT scan showed the cancer in one of her lymph nodes had started to spread and new tumours on her spine and in her liver.

Zuzana said: “I was really upset, it was so unexpected after my scan in April showed everything was fine.

“Because of coronavirus, I was on my own when I got the news. It’s really tough in the hospital just now.

“But when they saw the impact the news had on me, they let Mirek come and spend some time with me in the day room.

“He had to wear a mask and a gown, but it was so nice to have him with me.”

With her oncologist keen to get her started on her treatment straight away, Zuzana started the first of six more rounds of chemotherapy on July 15.

She says fighting cancer for a third time has brought home more than ever how important her own research is to give people with cancer more options and more time with their loved ones.

Zuzana said: “Patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia can respond well to treatment, but their cancer can come back because they still have leukaemic stem cells, or ‘starter cells’, in their bone marrow.

“Whilst some patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia can eventually stop taking their cancer drugs because their leukaemia goes away, others sadly see their cancer return.

“Many have to stay on their drugs for life to keep their disease under control, but this can lead them to develop resistance to the drugs.

“This means patients have to start taking their cancer drugs again, or try a different drug, both of which can have some tough side effects.

“I’m studying how leukaemic stem cells respond to certain drug combinations, to see if we can find new ways to kill more of these cells.

“The hope is this could help prevent more people with this type of cancer from relapsing and having to go through tough cancer treatment again.”

But Covid-19 forced Zuzana and her colleagues to hang up their lab coats during lockdown.

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With little new experimental data for scientist Zuzana to process, her work was put on pause and she was placed on furlough at the end of April.

Three months on, this vital work is slowly re-starting – but with new safety measures in place in the lab and complex experiments to recover, it could take months to get back up and running at full speed.

And now, with more cuts likely to follow, Zuzana is deeply concerned about the heart-breaking fallout for patients like her.

The issue is powerfully brought to life in a new TV appeal film.

It shows a cancer patient on the verge of finding out whether her treatment has been successful, when the video pauses at the critical moment.

Commenting on the film Zuzana said: “The message is clear, to save lives tomorrow Cancer Research UK needs the public’s support today.

“Every day and every pound counts, so I hope people in Glasgow will give what they can to help us keep making new discoveries.

“As researchers our mission is clear – beat cancer. And with the impact of Covid-19 being keenly felt by people with the disease, it’s never been more important.”

Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, Cancer Research UK currently funds around 50 per cent of all publicly funded cancer research in the UK.

Dr Victoria Steven, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Scotland, said: “We’re so grateful to Zuzana for helping to underline the stark reality of the current situation.

“With around 32,200 people diagnosed with cancer every year in Scotland, we will never stop striving to create new and better treatments. But we can’t do it alone.”

To donate see cruk.org/give