Dr. Tom Marsilje has spent his career as a top research scientist fighting cancer but now the battle is personal – he’s fighting to save his own life.
He was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer at the age of 40, only six hours after he and his team had presented at a healthcare conference on their breakthrough cancer drug, Zykadia.
“It went from being the best day of my life to learning I was a cancer patient,” says Marsilje.
The drug, Zykadia, which treats advanced lung cancer, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people whose disease is caused by a genetic mutation.
Colorectal cancer (colon and rectal cancer) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., and the second leading cancer cause of death in men and third in women, the American Cancer Society says.
More than 90 percent of colorectal cancer occurs in people older than 50 and the average age of diagnosis in the U.S. is 72, statistics say.
But the rate appears to be increasing in young people and it’s estimated that about 13,500 new cases of colon and rectal cancers will be diagnosed in Americans under age 50 this year.
Americans are advised to undergo screening beginning at age 50 and earlier for people who may be genetically prone to the disease.
Because of his family his family history, Marsilje – who saw his mother succumb to pancreatic cancer – had planned to undergo his first colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer at the age of 40.
But, at the age of 39, he was suffering some gastrointestinal symptoms, so he scheduled the colonoscopy that revealed the cancer.
In the five years since his diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy has helped keep his cancer at bay. He's also become a vegan and a marathon runner.
He also works tirelessly in the lab, in addition to developing an online tool for colon cancer patients to help educate them on clinical trials and navigating opportunities to participate in new trials that may help save their lives.
In his blog, entitled “Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic,” he relates how cancer treatment has affected him, and shares his upbeat perspective.
“The new era of medicine for scientists and patients is the most exciting time period I have ever witnessed. The level of excitement in the community is truly amazing. I have a lot of hope for the future and there are amazing things coming down the pipeline that will just blow people away,” says Marsilje.
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