He admits he didn’t immediately “grasp the severity” of the diagnosis, even when told that, without treatment, he’d only have six months to live and possibly up to 18 months with chemotherapy. “It didn’t sink in that I might die of cancer in the short term — I’m an upbeat guy.”
Chemotherapy, however, has a way of knocking the cheer out of even a pathological optimist. “I spent February 2014 wrapped in a blanket in front of my TV, watching the Olympics — that, plus a lot of support from family and friends, is how I got through it.”
Things looked up for a while until, four months later, the tumours started to grow again. That’s when he was tested to see if he was a candidate for precision medicine treatment.
Precision medicine is an approach to patient care based on genetic understanding of their particular disease; using genomics and big data analytics, doctors can ‘personalize’ treatment for better outcomes. At UCalgary and around the world, precision oncologists are finding new methods to prolong life and treat cancer more effectively.
Dr. Gwyn Bebb, MD, PhD, is a medical oncologist with the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine. He describes precision medicine, in its simplest terms, as: “The right drug to the right patient.” Dr. Bebb says that, while Terry didn’t start out as a candidate for precision medicine (because there wasn’t sufficient material in his original biopsy to check for biomarkers), a bronchoscopy did ultimately reveal that he had the biomarker for a gene associated with some forms of cancer. Armed with this information, Dr. Bebb was able to develop a precision treatment program for him.
In the spring of 2020, Terry started on his second type of targeted drug treatment. For more than four years, his CT scans have shown regression in the tumours’ size. While it’s almost inevitable that the cancer will eventually develop resistance to his current medication, for now, Terry — who has long since exceeded his original six-to-18-month prognosis — is as sunny as he ever was.