Putting faith in the future of cancer treatment

Icon Writers / 30 Nov, 2020

Why participating in a phase I clinical trial was a ‘no-brainer’ for skin cancer patient Colin

As an avid motorbike rider and high-performance sailor for most of his 82 years, Gold Coast local Colin Metcher has always focused on living life to the fullest. Despite a few setbacks along the way, Colin never thought that just a few years into his retirement his health would take a turn for the worst.

Colin had his first round of skin cancer removed from the corner of his eyes in 1973, followed by a skin graft from the back of his ears. With the knowledge that this was the best way to manage the early-stage cancer, Colin’s light-hearted spirt helped him see the humour of the situation.

“I would tell my young children not to act up as I could now hear and see them from all directions. It worked for a while!”

This was just the start of many skin cancer excisions to come over the years. Although he was never focused on tanning or sunbaking, Colin had spent his early years working on farms, surfing and sailing in the harsh Australian sun, not realising the impact this could have.

“It was an absolute disaster for my health. By the time I was aware about the dangers of the sun, the damage had already been done. My initials cancers were caused by the reflection of the nose pads on my spectacles which acted like a magnifying glass on my skin. We’ve all gotten much smarter about that sort of thing now and fortunately my children have grown up knowing the importance of slip, slop, slap.”

Two years ago, a lump in front of his right ear sparked a warning that his cancer had become more severe. After further tests and scans, Colin was told a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) had spread from his forehead to form a tumour and that he would require surgery to remove the cancer and lymph nodes from his ear to Adam’s apple, followed by six weeks of daily radiation therapy treatment at Icon Cancer Centre within the Gold Coast Private Hospital.

“I can’t compliment staff enough from my time at Icon Gold Coast Private. They helped me cope with the treatment, especially in terms of the radiation therapy mask which was very confining. I would give some advice to other patients who struggled with the mask and tell them to think about something else, such as what you would do if you won the lottery or a big yacht race. Taking myself into another mindset really helped.”

Unfortunately, during a CT scan 12 months later, secondary tumours (or metastases) were found in Colin’s lungs. He says the confronting news led to a big decision.

“I try not to let things get to me too much, but I wasn’t thrilled to bits when I was told. My prognosis was pretty grim. They told me I had two options, chemotherapy to manage the advanced cancer or the potential to participate in a phase I clinical trial at Icon Cancer Centre South Brisbane. With chemo, there’s no way I would have been able to maintain my active lifestyle. The trial was such a good option that I had no second thoughts.”

Colin soon began a two-year phase 1 clinical trial of an innovative new therapy at Icon and now attends the centre every three weeks for that treatment, supported by the team at Icon South Brisbane every step of the way. Phase 1 clinical trials offer patients new and promising treatments in a safe and controlled setting so as to judge their safety and early effectiveness. They are particularly important for people for whom there are no approved effective treatments.

For Colin, who recently marked his one year anniversary on the trial, the opportunity has been life-changing.

“I feel relieved and optimistic to be on this trial and have a lot of faith in the team. They made the experience a lot less scary. The staff have become friends, it’s quite nice to see them when I go in for treatment. We do more laughing than we do serious conversations!”

“Getting on this trial, I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet. The outcome has been pretty much miraculous for me, with my tumours significantly decreasing in size. There haven’t been any unpleasant surprises or side effects other than some fatigue and coughing.”

By participating in a clinical trial, patients such as Colin have the opportunity to access a potentially lifesaving treatment and help advance cancer treatment for all Australians and across the world.

He’s thankful that participating in the trial means he can contribute to these treatments for future patients.

“I don’t see myself as a great philanthropist or martyr, but if the trial can not only help me out but is also a path to getting this treatment accepted to help other people, that makes me feel really good.”

“It’s really important to me that I have been able to keep going and spend time doing what I love. My good buddies and I also run the motorcycling part of the Pan Pacific Masters Games, which my family and I take part in. All of my kid’s ride motorbikes, some of them are really keen and others just ride for fun now and then. It’s pretty special to compete in races with my sons and grandchildren.”

With COVID-19 still significantly impacting both Australia and the world, Colin now looks forward to a future where he can spend his retirement travelling and see his six children and 11 grandchildren that are spread across the country. For people who may be struggling with a cancer diagnosis, the best advice Colin can give is to stay positive and optimistic.

“I think your mental approach is a huge part of cancer treatment. I’m lucky to be supported by an active and positive family who have been great through everything. If I started moping around, my wife would kick me in the bum and say get on with it!”

He also recommends getting a port installed for any patients who, like him, require multiple infusions and says this has been great for both himself and the nurses, making his visits much easier.

Colin hopes his story will serve as a reminder of the importance of sun protection in reducing the risk of skin cancer. With two in three Australians expected to be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70, he urges people to be smart about cancer prevention.

“I make a really big deal about it now. At the yacht club I used to give kids that wouldn’t wear a hat or put on sunscreen a briefing on why it’s important and show them my scars from skin cancer excisions. They’re all over me, it looks like I’ve been in a sword fight. If someone learns how vital sun protection is, that’s all the better.”

Icon proudly offers Australia’s largest private cancer clinical trials program in medical oncology, haematology and radiation oncology, providing hope and opportunity for cancer patients to access new treatments and helping us to improve cancer care for people now and into the future.

It is these trials and the doctors and patients involved today, that advance the way we can treat cancer tomorrow.

Learn more about clinical trials at Icon

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