Peter Higginson’s life has been on a medical rollercoaster since February. After being diagnosed with bile-duct cancer, Peter, 56, and his wife Manon, have found their lives consumed by appointments, treatments, and the elusive hope for a cure.
Peter’s first obvious symptom of cancer appeared in February this year, when the whites of his eyes turned yellow. A battery of tests, including blood work, CT imaging, and ultrasound, followed. One scan revealed a mass on Peter’s liver.
An earlier symptom of persistent abdominal pain was never conclusively diagnosed, even though a scan in June 2018 detected a mass—smaller then—on his liver (from which the bile ducts run into the small intestine.)
Peter only learned of that earlier report, and its recommendation for a follow-up scan, this year. He feels angry that the initial report appears to have been fumbled. That apparent oversight cost him eight months, during which time the tumour grew. His bile ducts became blocked, causing the jaundiced cast to his eyes.
Bile-duct cancer is uncommon, treatment options are limited, and outcomes uncertain. Peter was referred to a doctor in Ottawa, and then to a specialist in Toronto who is the foremost surgeon in Canada for bile duct cancer and liver surgery. Surgery was initially presented as the best option, even though the procedure is complex and risky.
After stents were put in place to open up the bile ducts, Peter underwent chemotherapy in an effort to shrink the tumour and reduce the surgery risk. However, the Toronto specialist overseeing Peter’s treatment recently said that, due to the possibility cancer had spread to Peter’s lymph nodes, he now considers surgery unadvisable.
Peter and Manon were devastated to learn that the best treatment option left open to Peter would be radical radiation therapy, not surgery. The doctor advised them the risks of surgery far outweigh the possible long-term benefits. But the radiation therapy would leave Peter with a life expectancy of only one or two years.
“That’s a death sentence,” says Peter. While he respects the doctor’s view, Peter couldn’t accept that he would only have such a short time left. He and Manon began considering other options.
By coincidence, a niece of Peter’s is undergoing cancer treatment at the Immune Therapy Centre (ITC) in Mexico. After two weeks of treatment, she is showing encouraging progress.
Peter and Manon researched the centre, checked reviews, and contacted former patients. They felt encouraged by what they heard about ITC.
Peter contacted ITC for a consultation with doctors there. He began to feel hope again. Soon, he was booked into the ITC for treatment, and he and Manon journeyed to Mexico on August 29.
ITC uses a suite of therapies, which are tailored to each patient’s particular case. Therapies can include hyperthermia, blood oxygenation, and high-dose vitamins, all aimed at making the body healthy yet inhospitable to cancer cells.
Peter’s therapy program will run six hours a day, six days a week. He expects to be at ITC at least three weeks, but likely six. Peter’s treatment includes a restrictive diet, which he plans to continue when they return home.
“The best possible outcome,” Peter says, “would be complete cure or remission.” Realistically, he hopes that at least the tumour shrinks enough to make surgery back in Canada a viable option.
“I expect to come back much better than I left,” says Peter. He doesn’t feel there is any downside to trying the ITC program. Worst-case scenario would mean he picks up where he left off in his Canadian treatment.
Friends and family have been generally supportive of Peter’s decision to seek alternative treatment outside Canada. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with the up to $55,000 in expenses the couple expect to incur. None of the ITC treatment is covered by OHIP.
“I find it very humbling,” says Peter, after over $10,000 was raised in under one week (On August 30, almost $14,000 had been raised). Peter says he is unused to needing help and prefers to be the one helping others.
Peter has been on medical leave from his job as a carpenter/supervisor for R. Cadieux Construction since his diagnosis.
“I just want to get back to work,” says Peter. “I want to live.”
Manon plans to post updates on Peter’s condition on the GoFundMe page, and Peter is hoping to add some blogs posts about his experience at ITC. To learn more about Peter and follow his progress or make a donation, click here.