Cancer: A multidisciplinary success story

Brian Stankewitsch, diagnosed with heretofore “untreatable” Stage 4 colon cancer at age 46 in 2004, is one of the growing number of cancer treatment success stories.

After suffering from mild to severe stomach cramps for several months, Stankewitsch underwent a CT scan which found a large tumor in his colon and several other tumors that had spread to his liver, a typically inoperable condition. “My wife got a call a few days later from my doctor and over the phone he told her it was something grim,” recalled Stankewitsch. Then came good news. Brian and his wife, Kathleen, were told that Dr. Tony Reid, associate professor of medicine and academic director of the Clinical Trials Office with the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, was heading up a clinical trial on colon cancer patients and felt Brian would be a good candidate for the trial.

The end result exceeded everyone’s expectations: Through his clinical trial and chemotherapy treatments, Stankewitsch’s liver tumors shrank by more than 50 percent, making him eligible for surgery. “The chemotherapy that was applied to this patient was a good demonstration of the effectiveness of a cancer center (Moores UCSD) and its multidisciplinary approach,” noted Andrew Lowy, an internationally recognized expert in the surgical treatment of gastrointestinal tumors. “Liver colon cancer is one of the few diseases that is still often curable, after spread out if its site of origin, with surgery if there’s enough normal liver left over after we take the tumors out.”

Lowy noted Stankewitsch’s chemotherapy, combined with use of an investigational “smart drug” designed to inhibit proteins produced in cancer cells, succeeded in improving his physical condition to the point where his tumors could be operated on. “After we removed all the disease,” said Lowy, “we did something else, put a pump into an artery that goes to the liver to allow him to get direct chemotherapy, allowing us to give him the highest drug concentration that you could give intravenously.”

Stankewitsch is still ill, but he’s still alive, and his condition is continuing to improve, all of which gives him continued reason to be hopeful.

Stankewitsch said his wife’s support, and the warmth, caring and acceptance of their church, helped shepherd them through these trying times. Asked what advice he had for other cancer victims, Stankewitsch said: “Don’t give up hope. Don’t bury yourself in the disease. Our source of strength is our relationship with God. You can either fall apart, or you can gather your strength and walk your faith. It’s in God’s hands.”