A Young Battler

Icon Writers / 20 May, 2019

Clinical trial gives hope to rare cancer patient

In November 2016, a fit, bright and full of aspirations teenager was struck with disbelief when his doctor told him he had osteosarcoma in his right leg.

“In a way, I felt denial. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me,” said Tom.

He would go on to receive nine months of intensive chemotherapy followed by a major surgery replacing his knee joint with a metal prosthetic. Tom initially responded well to the chemotherapy and the prognosis was looking positive. However, 12 months on a regular scan showed a spot in his lung. Tom’s cancer had spread.

It was at that point Tom and his family began to question what the next steps would look like. His mother, Leanne began her own research and came upon immunotherapy.

“We were in a sense getting desperate. I was looking at immunotherapy trials in the United States and was even thinking about getting him treated overseas. Then, almost out of the blue, Tom’s medical oncologist suggested an immunotherapy clinical trial,” said Leanne.

The clinical trial involves the administration of two immunotherapy medications, simultaneously. These drugs are designed to prompt the immune system to fight cancer cells. Tom was told he was a good candidate for the trial, especially as the legion on his lung was quite small. Currently there are no proven immunotherapy drugs for osteosarcoma, but this trial felt like a positive step forward for the Hardyman family.

“I was hopeful and excited. It was great knowing there was something that could be done rather than just sitting around waiting and watching the cancer grow, not knowing what to do. It was good knowing there were people out there who were trying to come up with a treatment that could hopefully cure me, and others like me in the future,” said Tom.

The trial involves Tom being treated fortnightly with two hours of post monitoring. It’s less intense and hasn’t come with as many side effects as his past treatment. This has also meant he has been able to spend more time with his friends and concentrate on study.

Through the bad days and the endless hospital walls, Tom still managed to complete grade 12 with flying colours and received an academic scholarship in engineering at QUT. His goal is to graduate university and be an engineer helping to design Formula 1 race cars.

“Having this goal helps me through this experience, I love studying engineering so much that I find it easy to become consumed by it. It helps distract me from anything negative that’s going on.”

Concentrating on study is only part of his support network. Tom ultimately thanks his incredible family for helping him get through it all.

“I’m a pretty positive person, I don’t like to dwell on things. My family is awesome, they’re so supportive and I couldn’t have gone through this without them. If I’m having a particularly bad day I usually like to cry it out with my mum, get it all out at once, then move on.”

When he was first diagnosed, he wasn’t afraid of telling his friends, however this time around he’s decided to keep it to himself, because he’d rather not be labelled the “kid with cancer”.

“I don’t want them to treat me differently, and even if you tell them that, people will still treat you differently. At the moment I’m just loving living life without my friends thinking I’ve got cancer. I just enjoy hanging out and having fun.”

His mum has taken 18 months off work to help support Tom and has often felt overwhelmed, but is constantly in awe of his strength and positivity.

“It’s pretty tough on the whole family. There’s constant uncertainty. Just when you feel it’s going well, something sets you back. Never having the time to recharge your batteries is tough,” Leanne said.

There are a lot of hurdles along the way but Tom’s attitude has always been to just get on with life. He’s been truly amazing through the whole thing.”

Tom completed the trial in late 2018, but unfortunately since then his cancer has spread and Tom has gone onto receive radiation therapy treatment and is now on another clinical trial. For Tom and his family, they are still grateful for the ongoing care and the chance to be part of a clinical trial. For Leanne, she just hopes there will one day be a cure.

“It’s hard on any family. Rare cancers are often the forgotten ones. I hope there will be more opportunity for more trials in this space. I would ultimately love for there to be an effective drug targeting cancers like Tom’s. Clinical trials are so important. And I’d say to anyone to give it a go, because you might just be the person it works for.”

Despite everything, Tom continues to live the best possible life he can, surrounded by family and friends and is driven by a clear goal and a motivation to keep going no matter what.

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