Seven years ago, 54-year-old Lisa found a lump in her breast. She had it removed six weeks later, but the cancer had spread to her skull and spine. The BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) warned her of the cancer’s aggressive nature; they didn’t know how to cure it. As more tumours cropped up, Lisa had additional surgery and four rounds of radiation treatment.
This approach helped, until it didn’t. When she started feeling worse, standard treatment had no more options for her aside from chemotherapy.
But Lisa had already decided she didn’t want to try chemotherapy. So, with no other options available for her through standard care, she called CTOAM.
Lisa was kind enough to share her story with us, in the hopes that it will help other people.
"It started with a tumour in my breast (2.5 cm) that I found driving home from work one day. I just got a shooting pain and put my hand there and felt it right away. There was no warning. So I was freaked out obviously, and went to the doctor in the morning. She was freaked out, too – that was obvious."
As is common, doctors found more than just the one tumour. In addition to the one in her breast, Lisa also had tumours in her skull and spine. She went on to have numerous surgeries and radiation treatments (both of which were helpful) through BCCA [British Columbia Cancer Agency]. Everything was going okay until this past Christmas.
"Right around Christmas time I had been feeling badly for a number of months and the BCCA had nothing left to offer except chemotherapy. And I have a really strong reaction when somebody says chemotherapy: I don’t want to do it. Poisoning my whole body doesn’t feel right."
Lisa had heard of CTOAM’s precision oncology services through a friend and decided to reach out since it seemed like she had nothing to lose at that point.
"And so I phoned Alex [CTOAM’s Director of Scientific Research]. Alex was wonderful. He gave us so much information, he answered so many questions. He spoke to my husband so that my husband understood, instead of me trying to relay what he said. You know, we’re not scientists, either of us. So yeah, he was wonderful that way, just great.
My BCCA oncologist had told me that the drugs that she would like to give me were the exact drugs that Alex suggested I be on. She said she would like to give them to me, but she couldn’t get them. So two different chemotherapies were my only options [through BCCA].
Whereas Alex said, if you go see this other oncologist we can get you the right drugs and you don’t have to do chemotherapy – and, in fact, chemotherapy’s not right for you anyway.
And that was it for me. I was like, well, I have to at least give this a try – I’d be crazy not to – because my whole body just went "no" to [the prospect of] chemotherapy.
So that’s what I did: I went and met Dr. Klimo in Vancouver, and I really liked him right away. He was awesome, and everything happened exactly like Alex said it would."
Through CTOAM, Lisa was able to quickly access the right targeted therapy treatments. She was also able to get some of them covered through a compassionate access program. (Please note: This is not always possible for patients. However, our cancer advocacy services can give cancer patients a better chance at getting drugs covered.)
Lisa started taking the new drugs with great results. Her story is proof that precision oncology picks up where standard cancer treatment leaves off.
"I‘ve just trusted in the medical system in this country forever and I was really surprised to find that by going to a private oncologist I could get the drugs I actually need versus the drugs they [BCCA] could give me. Alex was able to help me get these drugs, so I’m not paying for them.
I’ve been on the [targeted] drugs now for a few months and I feel better than I’ve felt in a couple of years. I feel really good – like, shockingly good. And I’m not having any side effects from them at all. I feel fabulous. Although I do often have tired days still."
Of course, a big part of a successful treatment plan is precise monitoring. Precision oncology uses the latest imaging tools and tests to determine how well your treatment is working. For Lisa, this includes regular blood tests and a PET/CT scan every few months.
"We’re doing blood tests [to monitor what’s going on in my body]. We were doing them every week and it’s now every two weeks. The blood tests have tumour markers. When I started this with Alex, my tumour markers were very high, over 100. And the last test a few weeks ago showed they were down to 60. So to drop that much in just a few months is a big deal. And the PET/CT scan is also showing improvement."
Are you happy you chose to go with CTOAM?
"Yeah, very happy. I know that I was feeling really bad. I don’t think I even realized how badly I was feeling. And I feel wonderful now! It’s incredible how I feel now. I’m almost afraid to say it…they’re going to make me go back to work!"
Since having cancer, how have you changed?
"In every possible way. I may not have slowed down much really, but what I spend my time on has changed. When I’m well, like I am now, I’m super busy: I fill up my day, but I fill it with things that are important. Taking better care of myself has really changed. And it’s not like I’m always excellent at it. Like this morning, I’m sitting here having a butter tart – a really good one! But everything is different. Everything is much more valuable…time, especially."
Thanks so much to Lisa for sharing her experience.
If you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, please email or call us today to learn how to access the most advanced tests and treatments for your form of cancer. Register for a Precision Second Opinion to discover how we can help you to reduce stress and dramatically increase treatment success.
Precision Oncology: The future of cancer treatment, now
"I can’t tell you how much your support means to me. My call today with you was invaluable. You came into our lives at the perfect time. It’s rare to just be able to talk without a sales pitch. I could tell that my needs were more important." - Diane
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