RHYS Thomas was given three months to live, but almost three years on he is alive and recovering well thanks to a medical breakthrough lauded as a “penicillin moment” for cancer treatment.
Since being diagnosed with melanoma in October 2013, the New Lambton father-of-three and anaesthetist has been participating in a clinical trial for a new class of cancer drugs that work through immunotherapy.
He will share his story at a public forum organised by the Newcastle Institute at Souths Leagues Club on Wednesday from 6pm.
Dr Thomas said his diagnosis had “come out of the blue.” Apart from an unremarkable cough, he had not had any symptoms.
When he began feeling abdominal and flank pain he suspected early kidney stones, and decided to get it looked at.
Scans and tests revealed he had melanoma, with several significant tumours scattered throughout his lungs, abdomen, and brain.
“The median survival for patients in my situation was about three-to-four months. So if 100 patients came in with what I presented with, within four months, 50 of them would be dead,” he said.
Dr Thomas had surgery and radiotherapy before beginning one of the clinical trials into melanoma.
The trial had three “arms” to it.
The control arm used the current drug used to treat melanoma, called Yervoy.
The second arm was a new drug called Opdivo, which he knew had shown even more promise but it was only available in clinical trials. And the third was a combination of the two drugs.
“There was a one-in-three chance I would end up on the Yervoy that I could have started earlier, but there was a two-in-three chance I’d get this new immunotherapy drug, which sounded quite promising,” he said.
The trial is ongoing, and Dr Thomas still does not know for sure which treatment he was given.
Results show his tumours are shrinking. Some have disappeared completely.
Throughout the process, Dr Thomas has lost weight, suffered skin and hair de-pigmentation and other side-effects. But he has no regrets.