Precision medicine

Lung cancer put Terry Morey’s sanguine nature to the ultimate test. So far, optimism is winning

Sunny ways  

In November 2013, a few days after Terry Morey started antibiotics for a persistent cough and cold, he bundled up for a brisk walk on his Cochrane acreage. He returned home a few minutes later gasping for air and assuming his breathlessness was due to either the cold weather or, perhaps, a side effect of the medication.

“My doctor took another listen to my chest,” says Morey, a non-smoker who, at the time, had recently retired from corporate work in the oil industry. “He said, ‘I don’t get it — there’s no rattling in your chest.’” Morey was promptly sent for an X-ray and, the next day, had two litres of fluid drained off his lungs. Three days after that, he was told the biopsy of that fluid showed it was cancerous. He had Stage 4 lung cancer.

“You know how it was for me?” recalls Morey, a world-class joker and grandfather of six. “I said, ‘This isn’t happening to me! But, well, if it is — hell, I’m gonna beat it.’”

I said, ‘This isn’t happening to me! But, well, if it is — hell, I’m gonna beat it.’

Terry Morey, cancer survivor

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.

Terry Morey and his grandson, Cade

Terry Morey and his grandson, Cade. These two share a love of baseball — and a passion for one another that sparked Cade’s philanthropic heart, making him the campaign’s youngest donor.

What Giving Gives Me  

My grandpa has lung cancer and so, on my birthday, I asked friends to give money rather than gifts. I raised $400 to help doctors figure out how to defeat cancer. I felt good doing that. Last year, I collected bottles to raise money. I want my papa to stay with us for a long time.

Cade Morey, 11

Inspired to help his grandfather, Cade raised $400 to contribute to cancer research

Meeting the cancer challenge

Through advances in precision medicine, UCalgary is transforming the way we diagnose and treat cancer. Thanks to the mapping of the human genome, doctors can treat some individuals with highly targeted and effective therapies. Treating people based on their unique characteristics, along with factors like health history, lifestyle and diet, dramatically impacts outcomes for those with cancer.