My name is Kendra and if you know anything about me, you know how much I love my little brother. Last fall my family's lives changed forever when my brother Taylor was diagnosed with Metastatic gastric cancer (AKA stage 4 stomach cancer) in October 2015 at 26 years old. We were absolutely shocked, especially since Taylor was already diagnosed with type 1 insulin dependent Diabetes at the age of 4.
We were told that removing it/surgery was not an option at that point. We were also told that it was very rare in someone his age. Despite all of this devastating news, Taylor was so incredibly strong and kept his wicked sense of humour. He started chemotherapy (cisplatin/epirubicin /capecitabine) on November 2nd a few weeks later--and even sent me some "chemo selfies."
After three cycles of chemotherapy, his tumor shrunk by 30% and his tumor markers went from 16,000 down to 2000. After three more cycles, his tumors had shrunk again by 30%. At this point his tumor markers went from 2000 to 12. Normal tumor markers for someone without cancer are about 5. We were ecstatic about this especially since his pain was better and he could eat again properly. It felt amazing to get some good news. It felt amazing to have my witty, upbeat brother back. Taylor's hair started growing back and he put on some weight. The doctors decided to keep doing chemo. Unfortunatly, after the next three chemo cycles, the tumors had stabilized. One more round of chemo later, one of the tumours has started to grow again. Finally, tumor markers in his blood increased again.
We found out on the night of my recent wedding rehearsal dinner that chemotherapy was no longer working for Taylor and that he would need to switch to a different type of treatment. Despite this news, Taylor stood up with me in our wedding party on our big day.
His oncologist believes his best treatment option would be to switch to immunotherapy instead of chemotherapy. Taylor has poor marrow tolerance to chemotherapy (which results in a compromised immune system and delays in treatment and reduction of dose strength.) Also, Taylor went through gene testing on his tumors (POG study) which showed immunotherapy may be very beneficial.
Here's the science behind it as I understand it: Immunotherapy differs from chemotherapy in that where chemo kills all cells indiscriminately (hence losing you hair etc), immunotherapy boosts your bodies immune response, and targets the cancerous cells with the help of your natural immune system.
Immunotherapy (specifically the drug PEMBROLIZUMAB) has had amazing success with melanoma (skin cancer...even in stage 4) and is approved for its use in Canada. But it's still in phase three trials for gastric cancers. Basically, this means it's not covered for cancer patients. Taylor can only get the treatment through a "compassionate basis" through the company who makes the drug, or through the government. He recently applied for both, but was denied despite his young age. The next option was to see if his extended healthcare would cover part of the cost (he is still waiting on a response). Finally his last option is to pay for the drug himself, the cost would be approximately $100,000 a year!! This drug therapy is roughly $8000 every 3 weeks and not covered for a 27 year old...despite the fact it could potentially dramatically help him.
In addition to these options, he has also made contact with the local MLA and MP who have said they would try to see what they could do for him from a political position. But so far we are still waiting. This time right now is crucial as we need to get him started on the next treatment.
The bottom line is Taylor has shown everyone what true strength is. I can't really express how amazingly strong he has been through all of this. Through chemo and pain and feeling sick he has essentially continued to work full time. He has kept his sense of humour and put on a brave face for everyone in his life. It's difficult to put yourself out there and ask for help, especially on social media but if he is not able to qualify for/afford immunotherapy he will be forced to go on a more extreme version of chemo which will happen weekly instead of monthly. This will severely limit his quality of life and stop him from being able to work and act like a normal 27 year old.
I am asking on behalf of my little brother, for help raising money for his immunotherapy. $100,000 seems like such a crazy amount, but it would fund his treatments for a year. Please pass this on to your friends, families and loved ones that may be interested in helping one of the strongest and best people I know, fight this horrible disease. My family thanks you from the bottom of our hearts for taking the time to read this and for helping my brother fight this.