Cancer clinical trials save lives, drive innovation, and improve the quality of care for future generations. But for patients and caregivers going through cancer, they can also be yet another frightening unknown. In recognition of Clinical Trials Day, we’re sharing stories of hope from our volunteers who have been through it.

Meet Darrell Berman, a CHN volunteer mentor who lives in upstate New York and Vermont. A three-year pancreatic cancer survivor, he was trained as a mentor in January 2023.  

*The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cancer Hope Network.*

Cancer has not been a stranger in my life. My older sister had ovarian when she was seven years old and survived. My younger sister had triple-negative breast cancer when she was 43 and passed away at 48.

Darrell Berman photo

I considered myself lucky that I had pancreatitis in November 2020. Although the pain was intense, a very alert NP gave me a blood test and told me my Lipase level was very high and thought I should see my GI physician.

After several tests and scans, the news was shocking. When I got it, I was walking my dog. “Pancreatic Cancer,” my GI doc said.

Besides being paralyzed with shock and fear, my first thoughts were about whether I would have enough time to say goodbye to my family and friends.

I was looking for any signs of hope that this was not a death sentence that would be served up in short order.

My family and I mobilized quickly to research my cancer, the potential surgery, and the right places for my potential surgery and chemotherapy during COVID. My wife and kids were amazing and helped me immensely. We came up with a game plan with a timeframe.

I spent the next several months going through chemo, having the Whipple surgery, and then several more chemo rounds. The chemo was incredibly tough, and I was told to stop after eight rounds. I had already decided that I needed to complete 10 and that is what I did.

Clinical Trial

Before my surgery, my surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) asked me how I felt about being a part of a clinical trial that was specifically for people with the BRCA mutation. He explained that it was a double-blind study meaning that I would never know whether I received the study drug.

I jumped at the chance to be part of the clinical trial because I saw no downside and it was a simple regimen to follow. The survivability rate for my cancer is extremely low and the recurrence rate is incredibly high. The fact that I was even eligible was amazing and from a psychological standpoint, it gave me more hope that my life could be extended. As a cancer survivor, the chance of recurrence is with you all the time.

I also believe strongly that whatever I can do in the name of science and research for future patients going through a similar diagnosis, it’s the right thing to do. I gave permission to use my tumor and blood for research purposes.

The drug was Olaparib which is used for stopping cancer cells from growing and it’s used for ovarian, breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. I took it twice a day for one year. It’s only for people who have a BRCA gene change mutation.

At a median follow-up of 3.4 years, 61 percent of patients taking Olaparib were alive without cancer progression, compared to 27 percent of those not on the study drug.The side effects of the actual drug included nausea for a few months which I had.

I had tremendous support from the people at (MSK) including the nurses, oncologists, and support staff throughout the year-long trial.

I would have to be checked every couple of months to make sure my bloodwork was good, and I wasn’t experiencing any side effects that were detrimental to my health.

My family was also very encouraging from the time I decided to move ahead with the trial until the day I finished. Three weeks later, I went on a five National Park trip with my wife and son and hiked over 70 miles within 10 days. It was my way of saying, I got through it and now I can continue on with my life.

Post Clinical Trial

This September will be two years since I finished my clinical trial. My last scan was on April 15, 2024, and was clean. My gratitude attitude is with me every day and I am so happy to have had the opportunity to be part of a clinical trial that hopefully (if I was actually on the drug) helped keep the cancer from coming back.

When you are faced with a life-threatening disease, you always look to see how others have done. I was lucky to be able to find survivors of this horrendous cancer that were thriving. I also know many more who have not survived. But knowing there were people out there willing to share their stories, I felt that if I made it through, I would also want others to know there is light at the end of that long tunnel. I love being able to talk and help others who are going through tough times. Hope is one of the most wonderful four-letter words out there!

Are you or someone you know considering or currently participating in a clinical trial? Learn more about Cancer Hope Network’s Talking About Clinical Trials (TACT) Peer Mentors who are specially trained to share their experiences and to answer questions about the process of participating in a clinical trial.

About Cancer Hope Network

Cancer Hope Network provides free and confidential 1:1 peer support for cancer patients, survivors, and those who love them. Our trained survivor and caregiver volunteer mentors provide support from diagnosis, through treatment and into survivorship. They have faced more than 98% of the cancers that will be diagnosed in 2023, speak 15 languages, and are prepared to offer hope and guidance through a wide variety of challenges that accompany a cancer diagnosis.

All volunteer and client matches are overseen and supported from beginning to end by a team of healthcare and social work professionals. For more information about Cancer Hope Network and its mission, please visit