One would never know these days that Mill Bay’s Allan Wood was recently near death from pancreatic cancer.
His life since he was diagnosed in February, 2017, told he had mere months to live and should get his affairs in order has been a roller coaster of emotions for Wood and his wife, Alana Baker, ranging from deep despair to high hopes.
Wood, a rowing coach at Brentwood College and a construction advisor at RONA Inc., began chemotherapy soon after his diagnosis and registered in the personalized onco-genomics (POG) research program at the Vancouver Cancer Centre.
POG is an experimental clinical trial that uses whole-genome analysis to help inform individual treatment planning for patients by determining what may be driving their particular type of cancer.
Baker, a teacher/librarian who is also a cancer survivor, said that after Wood’s second chemotherapy treatment, the nasty side effects were starting to take hold.
She said the couple were given advice by friends for Wood to try Genoa Laser Therapy in Duncan, and they quickly noticed a sudden and significant improvement in reducing Wood’s mouth sores, hair loss, sensitivity to cold in hands and feet, and general pain.
Genoa Laser Therapy uses laser and LED beams of light to stimulate the cells in the body that repair tissue, reduce inflammation and get rid of pain.
Baker said that a few months later, Wood travelled to Vancouver to have his entire DNA mapped as part of the POG program.
The mapping took two months by computer and then a month of analyzing by experts before it was determined that the drug Afatinib might be helpful and registered Wood in the appropriate clinical trial.
“However, the cancer began to take hold just before Christmas as the start of the clinical trial kept being delayed and chemotherapy was failing to work,” Baker said.
“It was supposed to start September, 2017, then October, 2017, then February, 2018, and then it was unknown when it would begin.”
Finally, in February, with Wood on the brink of death and down to 198 pounds from the robust 250 he used to be, Baker decided to call the drug company, Boehringer Ingelheim, directly and persuade them to provide the drug on a compassionate-care basis.
Baker said that after three weeks of phone calls, they finally agreed and Wood began taking Afatinib on a regular basis.
Within three weeks, Wood went from only being awake two hours a day, needing a wheelchair for transport as he could no longer walk, to walking into the hospital with only a cane for assistance.
“Nurses and oncologists were amazed,” Baker said.
“Today, a full year after his six-month prognosis, Allan walks completely unassisted and is basically back to normal having put back on 25 pounds of healthy weight.”
Wood said that a PET scan before he started taking the drug showed that he had cancer cells in the lymph nodes in his neck and arms, in his liver and some cancerous or precancerous cells in his colon.
A PET scan taken a month after he started taking the drug revealed that his lymph nodes were clear of cancer, cancer activity in his liver was down 52 per cent and cancer is almost gone from his colon.
“I wasn’t supposed to see much improvement for six months to a year,” Wood said.
“I was clearly told this is not a cure, but the drug will hinder the reproduction of cancer cells and lead to a better quality of life.”
Wood said that the choices the couple made, along with breakthroughs in medical research, played a large part in his much improved health.
“The treatments I received at Genoa Laser Therapy, the only private clinic of its kind in North America, kept me going long enough to begin the pill program,” he said.
“I’m lucky that Genoa Laser Therapy was nearby and that the drug company agreed to take me in one of their clinical programs. I was skeptical in the beginning and didn’t think anything we were trying was going to keep me alive. But here I am and I’m even thinking about getting back to some volunteer work soon.”
Baker added that their experience has shown that even large pharmaceutical companies like Boehringer Ingelheim can have a heart.
“My husband is now a poster child for this drug and is being talked about at oncology conventions as the best responder to the newest drug therapy that they have ever seen,” she said.