Stratford residents’ clinical trial

Stratford residents Steve Wadey and Marilyn De Haas at the Knob Reserve in Stratford. Marilyn is Latrobe Regional Health's first melanoma clinical trial participant. Photo: Lisa Baker

YOU’D think Steve Wadey and Marilyn De Haas know each other because they both live in Stratford, less than a kilometre apart.

Steve has lived there for four years, Marilyn for 20. However, the pair had never met until recently.

They met because they’ve both been on a clinical trial for melanoma, one of the deadliest cancers for Australians.

Yet their ability to access a clinical trial as country Victorians has been quite different, despite living in the same town.

Steve’s melanoma was diagnosed in 2015 when it was picked up through a routine health check.

He had no choice but to make the gruelling 560km round-trip to The Alfred in Melbourne for the best part of six years.

The melanoma was so aggressive that he chose to go on a clinical trial to be proactive in preventing it from coming back.

“I had two options, go home and see what happens. Or, go on a clinical trial to stop this thing from coming back,” he said.

From 2015 to today, Steve married Lauren, he’s become a father to Luca, has a baby girl due in October, and he’s built a career as a business development executive for a large, global company.

But, also in this time, he’s been on four clinical trials to beat his cancer and he is extremely grateful to his clinical care team at The Alfred Hospital.

The added challenge for Steve was he had no choice but to make the long drive alone and unwell because clinical trials were not yet available locally.

“It’s taken a big mental toll. For some of that time I hadn’t met my wife yet, so it was a long way to go alone. When I did have Lauren, it still wasn’t realistic for her to come. To have a support person there to listen to what you’re being told, and to make sense of the information, I didn’t have any of that,” he said.

“However, despite the challenges, clinical trials are the reason I’ve been able to continue to beat my cancer and I’m so pleased that our community now has access to them closer to home.”

In 2020, Latrobe Regional Health joined an Australian-first pilot program called TrialHub.

Funded by the federal government, it’s a partnership model where a city hospital with a large clinical trial offering, The Alfred Hospital, partners with regional and rural hospitals to support them with what they need to deliver clinical trials to their patients.

The goal is to greatly reduce the travel and mental burden for these patients, and provide more opportunities for treatment closer to home.

Clinical trials that can give patients early access to treatment has been proven successful well before it’s available to the public.

And that’s where we meet Marilyn.

She was diagnosed with melanoma six months ago. Doctors were unable to pinpoint how it originated and told her the melanoma would not respond to chemotherapy or radiation. A clinical trial was recommended as her best option.

But, unlike Steve, she didn’t have to travel to Melbourne to access a clinical trial.

Clinical trials are now available at Latrobe Regional Health, an hour drive down the highway from her home.

For the past three years, the hospital has been supported by TrialHub, both financially and operationally, including the upskilling of its workforce and creation of new roles.

Marilyn is the region’s first local melanoma clinical trial participant and the first person recruited to the trial she is on in Australia. So far, the melanoma is responding extremely well to trial treatment.

“Originally, the trial wasn’t quite ready to open and it looked like I’d still have to go to Melbourne. But, luckily for me, the incredible staff managed to get the trial up so I was able to join closer to home. I tell everyone in my community to look into clinical trials now because it’s working for me, they’re blown away when I tell them my tumours are shrinking. The best part is the clinical trial team, they’re wonderful,” Marilyn said.

Stratford residents Steve Wadey and Marilyn De Haas at the Knob Reserve in Stratford.

While Steve had to take a lot of time off work to accommodate the travel to Melbourne, Marilyn can still go about her daily business, play at the Stratford Bowls Club and is even booked for a trip on the Ghan Railway next month.

Latrobe Regional Health has gone on to open 23 clinical trials since 2019, with more growth for its research and clinical trials in the pipeline.

“How good is it that we get to live in a beautiful region with the fresh air, mountains, rivers, and lakes, with improved access to healthcare and knowing that my little fella can forge a career in medical research right here in Gippsland if he wants to,” Steve adds.

TrialHub is also supporting Bendigo Health, Peninsula Health, Northern Health, Bass Coast Health, and Mildura Public Base Hospital. The pilot is due to be complete in 2025, and it’s hoped the program will be replicated across the country.

Learn more about what’s happening in clinical trials by visiting LRH’s website at