Gary: Liver Cancer Survivor
Gary Cail is what one would call a positive thinker, a dreamer or even the ‘cockeyed optimist,’ as described by songwriter Oscar Hammerstein. But the past couple of years have been enough to test even Gary’s eternally rosy attitude.
In 2016, Gary was seeing his gastrointestinal (GI) doctor for a regular checkup for his diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver. His doctor noticed that Gary’s tumor markers were increasing and ordered an MRI scan. The scan showed a tumor in Gary’s liver. He was immediately sent to Smilow Cancer Hospital where additional diagnostic tests were performed.
“I was told that a tumor was blocking my blood vessels,” remembers Gary, “and that no surgery could be done. I understood that this was a serious, life-threatening diagnosis and was referred to a Yale oncologist, Dr. Stacey Stein.”
Dr. Stein, Assistant Professor of Medicine, specializes in developing new GI clinical trials. She recommended a low-dose chemotherapy to see if Gary could tolerate the drugs.
“Of course, the treatment needed to be approved by my insurance company,” notes Gary. “It took from the beginning of June until the end of June for that to happen. And when it finally was approved, Dr. Stein told me that another clinical trial was starting on June 30. The new trial did not include a placebo (a substance that has no treatment effect, used as a control in testing new drugs). That really interested me because it meant I would get the real treatment and the full effect of the drugs from the start.”
“To be eligible for this new trial, I could not have had previous chemotherapy treatment. How lucky for me that my insurance company took so long to ok my former claim or I would have started chemotherapy and would not have been eligible for the new treatment. We found out on July 5 that there was space in the new trial and so on July 20, I started taking the drugs intravenously three times a month. At that time, I was told that my tumor measured about 8.1 cm.”
In 2017, Gary was hospitalized with kidney and liver problems (Hepatic Encephalopathy), so the treatment had to be stopped. This was a setback. Gary had been counting on being able to be on the treatment over several months. He continued to see Dr. Stein for MRIs to check on the tumor. Even though he was no longer on the drug, Gary’s tumor continued to decrease.
To everyone’s surprise, by December, the cancer was completely gone. Gary continues to have MRI scans every three months to check on his cancer and is still cancer free.
“I am delighted with the results and most impressed with Dr. Stein’s expertise and caring manner,” said Gary. “Every doctor, every nurse at Smilow is so attentive, so amazing. They do everything they can to make you comfortable and are always there to answer your questions. I still see Dr. Stein every three months for checkups. And I am still being treated for my problems with cirrhosis of the liver with Dr. Mario Strazzobosco.”
Gary also has a guardian angel, Judy Paul, a ‘bright spot’ as he calls her. Judy lost her husband 10 years ago to pancreatic cancer. She is dedicated to helping Gary. Judy makes sure Gary goes to the doctor, drives him to treatments, and stays with him while he sees the doctor.
“I feel that my husband might still be here if trials like this had been available 10 years ago,” Judy notes. “I want to be as much of a help as I can be. Seeing Gary’s success is an overwhelming feeling for me.”
Gary feels like it’s a ‘perfect partnership.’ “On my part, I would not be where I am without her. I don’t know how to say it any other way. One great loss for one person equals a great win for another.”
Gary has learned some important lessons during this experience. Advice that he offers to other patients.
- Remain optimistic. Don’t let things get you down. When people ask how I feel, I say ’10.’ My attitude is never to get down, to carry on optimistically.
- Have faith. I am so lucky. I didn’t have the first chemotherapy treatment because my insurance company didn’t act quickly. That allowed me to get on this new trial. I have always had faith to help me work through my problems. I really feel that I am blessed. I’m so grateful.
- Of course, I’m down sometimes. Like when we had to stop my treatment. Or when I’m not feeling top notch or receive a bad test result. But, I’ve learned that you never know what’s going to happen next. My cells kept fighting, even though I had to stop the treatment.
Gary is one of those people who just infuses people with hope. He exudes joy when talking about his successes. He realizes we have to trust the doctors and their knowledge and let them take control. We as cancer patients can’t get through this alone. He perfectly fits Winston Churchill’s description, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”