Young Father with Cancer: ‘Hope Has No Limits’
Chris Lawrence got something unexpected after meeting with his care team at Avera Cancer Institute for treatment of stage IV bile duct cancer — medical hope.
“What Dr. (Brian) Leyland-Jones said is, ‘This is good, I know how to treat this.’ That was a pretty incredible statement, and it really gave us hope for the very first time,” Chris said.“I always had hope, there is always hope in Christ. It’s been incredible to get hope from the medical world because the textbooks say when you have bile duct cancer there isn’t any.”
The new father had just met with part of his cancer care team — Brian Leyland-Jones, MB BS, PhD, Vice President of the Avera Cancer Institute Center for Precision Oncology, which specializes in genomic testing to deliver targeted cancer treatment.
He’s been impressed with the cancer program from the beginning. In the year since beginning treatment he’s no longer experiencing debilitating back pain and is enjoying to past activities like skiing and rock climbing.
“It seems that a lot of my normal life is returning, one piece at a time, and I feel as though there is plenty of reason for continued hope,” Chris said. “If people really knew what Avera had to offer and the depth of research and the things that were happening here, I think they would be overrun.”
Chris moved his family from Longmont, Colo., back to his hometown of Sioux Falls after his diagnosis for his treatment. His cancer started in the liver and spread to the spine and pelvis. For patients who have stage IV, metastatic cancer, the goal is to improve survivorship. The cancer is treated as a chronic condition with ongoing monitoring.
“Once it spreads we want people to extend their lives as much as possible,” said Avera Medical Group Oncologist Mark Huber, MD. “Chris is doing very well and he’s certainly doing better than the textbooks would tell you. The cancer is under good control and not growing.”
Avera’s Center for Precision Oncology uses out-of-the box strategies to treat cancers based on the person’s DNA. They analyze the patient’s genomic markers or alterations. Knowing how the patient’s DNA mutated, along with other hereditary markers, allows doctors to determine how best to treat each patient.
“This is a new age when we can actually determine the hard genomic drivers in the tumor and match those with the best therapy and then actually monitor it in real time to know how the treatment is working,” said Leyland-Jones. “This personalized approach gives Chris a better chance at a longer survival than what standard of care can.”
Chris has Lynch syndrome, a hereditary condition that increases the chance of developing multiple types of cancer at a younger age, which is known to respond better to immunotherapy treatment. Chris also is receiving chemotherapy and another medication to target a specific alteration found in his genes.
With continued monitoring, the Avera Precision Oncology team can better determine how Chris’ genes continue to change and alter treatment to keep the cancer under control. He also recently had a procedure that injected radiation directly into the liver tumor to further shrink and eradicate it.
“This spring marked the one year anniversary of my cancer journey beginning,” Chris said. “My wife and I spent it in Colorado and I felt so good that I rock climbed a tower in Garden of the Gods State Park.
“That is the thing about hope — it has no limits. It is not restrained by textbooks, past cases or whatever. Even beyond medicine, my hope is in the Lord. And with God, there is always hope and there is always a way.”