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tom m: colorectal cancer

I have "currently incurable" Stage IV colon cancer. I am also Ph.D. scientist in oncology drug discovery. Two of my current life missions: spread the word on the amazing advances seen in immunotherapies and eventually be cured by one!

Can answer questions surrounding the following topics:

What about immunotherapy gives you hope?

“In my 20 years of experience, I have never seen before such a fast pace of research progress!”

Dr. Tom Marsilje is a dad, husband, and music lover living with stage 4 colorectal cancer. He’s also a scientist who’s spent the last 20 years in cancer research. Tom writes a monthly column for Fight Colorectal Cancer called “The Currently Incurable Scientist.” He is being treated with a combination of chemotherapies known as FOLFIRI, and the monoclonal antibody Avastin® (bevacizumab).

I’m a scientist, and have been involved with oncology research for over 20 years. I was first diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer at the young age of 40. I am currently 43 and living with stage 4 disease.
Having a unique perspective as both a scientist and patient, I actively talk oncology science to my fellow survivors in the cancer community as well as to describe the patient experience to my fellow medical research scientists. I believe hearing about recent advances in oncology research (especially immunotherapies!) can be inspirational to my fellow cancer survivors, and hearing about the patient experience can be inspirational to my fellow scientists.

The current rate of immunotherapy research breakthroughs is amazing—in my 20 years of experience, I have never seen before such a fast pace of research progress! I have also never witnessed all sides of scientific research (academic, industrial, public, and private) come together to so efficiently attack a single project. As both a scientist and a stage 4 patient, it is simply breathtaking to behold.

In terms of colorectal cancer specifically, I personally believe that everything changed within just the past few years with the significant success of immunotherapies in multiple cancer types—including recently (in preliminary data) the “MSI-high” subtype of colorectal cancer, which is, unfortunately, not the subtype that I have.

The reasonable, plausible, and logical possibility of an immunotherapy breakthrough for the “MSS” subtype, which is what I and most colorectal cancer survivors have, in the near future has caused an earthquake-sized impact in the colorectal cancer patient community.

Historically, colorectal cancer patients endured the side effects of chemotherapy for the payoff of often additional years with friends and family. That is still true. That extra time for additional holidays and milestones is a true gift.  But now there is something more. Much more.

In just the past 6 months, we saw our MSI-high colorectal cancer brothers and sisters potentially reach that point with PD-1 inhibitors. In the patient community, we continue to hear daily from them their stories of anti-PD-1 immunotherapy responses, giving us hope for ourselves.

For a number of reasons, MSS colorectal cancer is harder to target with immunotherapies than MSI-high colorectal cancer. But our hope is still there via witnessing the enormous resources being thrown into immunotherapy research and next generation experimental clinical trials specifically meant to address more difficult tumors such as MSS colorectal cancer.

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