Michel is loving life, thanks to his research and resolve
Michel was initially denied Gamma Knife radiosurgery for his 20 brain metastases. Today, after eight such treatments for more than 215 mets, he is feeling as good as before his diagnosis.
As a nature enthusiast, Michel fell in love with Canada instantly when he moved to British Columbia from his home in Europe. He loves the natural beauty and fresh air that the Pacific coast offers and always has his binoculars to watch the wildlife. Ironically, despite the clean air and that he has never smoked, Michel was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in June 2020. To make matters worse, the cancer had metastasized, and an MRI scan discovered 20 small lesions in his brain.
Unfortunately, whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT) was the treatment offered in his case – for people with more than 10 lesions and EGFR exon 20 insertion* – at his Vancouver cancer center. Irradiating his entire brain when the lesions comprised only about 0.1 percent of his entire brain did not sit well with Michel. He researched the alternatives and learned that “stereotactic radiosurgery with Leksell Gamma Knife® yields the best precision and accuracy, with the highest safety,” according to Michel and his sources. And he learned of several hospitals in Canada and the U.S. that routinely and successfully treat many more than 10 lesions using Gamma Knife.
“In June 2021, I finally had my first Gamma Knife treatment in Spokane, for 36 lesions. What a happy day!”
Concerned that his neurocognition – the ability to think, reason and behave like himself – would be compromised by WBRT, Michel opted for Gamma Knife treatment in neighboring Washington state in the U.S., even though he would have to pay out of his own pocket. “We pay for treatments with our life savings, which is a measure of our trust in Gamma Knife and in the exceptional team in Spokane that delivers it,” he says. “In June 2021, I finally had my first Gamma Knife treatment in Spokane, for 36 lesions. What a happy day!”
In total, Michel has been treated in Spokane on eight different occasions for more than 215 lesions – to date. “During the first treatment I didn’t know what to expect and was a bit nervous,” he admits. “However, the team was reassuring, eased my anxiety and helped me through the treatment. It can be long, but I wouldn’t say uncomfortable; I’m lucky because I’m able to nap during the treatment.”
He has the routine down pat. “After signing in and a discussion with my doctor, the frame is placed on my head. A nurse takes me for an MRI scan and afterwards, the doctor lets me know how many new targets will be treated and what the plan is. Then I go to the treatment room and lie down on the couch, have a pillow placed under my knees and am tucked in with a warm blanket. That’s when I have a nap and the actual treatment is performed. Once it’s over, I’m removed from the couch, wheeled back to my room and the doctor removes the frame. They put a bandage on that looks a little like a turban, which I keep on for about 24 hours. I’m served a meal and usually stay overnight. The next day, my wife and I drive home.”
Asked about his expectations, Michel says, “My expectations were that it would deliver as promised. Looking back, it delivered above expectations, because not only has my quality of life been maintained but it made me a long-time survivor, in the context of my disease burden.”
“I have zero side effects from Gamma Knife treatments, never had a seizure or even a headache. And I continue to drive safely and enjoy life.”
He adds: “Today, after several rounds of Gamma Knife, I am the same person as before my diagnosis. Not only has it preserved my quality of life and neurocognition 100 percent, but the lesions’ local control rate is also very close to 100 percent, with only three of them requiring retreatment. I have zero side effects from Gamma Knife treatments, never had a seizure or even a headache. And I continue to drive safely and enjoy life.”
Michel is not naive about his condition, acknowledging that his illness is known to progress quickly in the brain. “We have highs and lows, are often stressed, but try our best.” He says his biggest wish now is that everyone could have access to the same compassion and excellent treatment he has received in Spokane and urges patients to question everything.