Where the heart and science intersect

Way back in 2008, when I enrolled in a clinical trial for crizotinib (Xalkori), it was the only ALK inhibitor in the world. That meant that once it stopped working (and my oncologist stressed from the get-go that this was not a cure, but rather a respite from cancer) it was the end of the road.

One year in I began to develop resistance to crizotinib but without further options, I stayed on trial and eked out almost two more years. Then, just in the nick of time, a phase I trial opened for a second ALK inhibitor–ceritinib (Zykadia).

Of course, in my universe the individuals who develop the therapies that have extended my life are absolute superstars and I the ultimate groupie. I was given the opportunity to meet Dr. Jean Cui, who formulated crizotinib, at the Xalkori Launch in 2011 and I became her number one fangirl.

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment in which Dr. Tom Marsilje and I entered the same orbit (and nor could he, as we both have chemo brain), but he codeveloped ceritinib (Zykadia). By the time I was introduced to Tom, he was battling his own cancer and suddenly our connection became a whole lot more personal.

My friend Tom is an absolute rockstar in every sense of the word and you’d be remiss not to read this profile of him in STAT–Cancer researcher races to find a cure–for his own incurable cancer. This article hits all the high points so I’ll just provide a few more personal details.

About six weeks ago Tom was in Boston and we got together for dinner (along with our mutual friend, John Novack, of INSPIRE) at the appropriately named Miracle of Science. Obviously we should have taken a selfie but neither of us thought of it (blame it on the chemo brain). We’ll just have to do a redux at a later date.

However, the first time Tom and I met in the flesh (like so many of my friendships, ours existed in the email/social media sphere), it was entirely by accident. We were both in DC this past spring, lobbying for our individual cancers (lung and colon). I was waiting for an elevator in the basement of the Russell Senate Building and noticed a man standing with his back to me and thought ‘he sort of looks like Tom Marsilje’. Well, that man turned around, saw me, started to shake a little (we were both gobsmacked), and then I rushed over to give him a big ol hug. The serendipity of our encounter was just sort of perfect.

Anyway, count me a huge fan. Even if he if wasn’t one of the reasons I’m still here, I’d be impressed by and with Dr. Tom Marsilje.

5 responses to “Where the heart and science intersect

  1. Thank God for people like Tom.

    • Yes. He is a mensch.


      • Hi Linnea, this is Dace ‘Dots’ Brennan my Facebook acct. is disabled. Facebook says it is not. Submitted ID they did not accept. Tried to submit a new one, they said it is not disabled and would not accept a new one. Written a snail mail letter today 10/18/16. Your last post really hit home especially about parking. Really sorry about the little bit of progression. Hopefully, it is extremely slow in future. Bless Dots. dacebrennan@ymail.com
        Anyone else had the same problem with Facebook?
        Really miss you daily feed with words of wisdom!

  2. I will begin by saying how I came upon this text, so bear with me for a few lines :). I found your blog while I was researching for information on a few new experimental therapies for non-small cell lung cancer, due to the fact that I find my self working thowards the development of a new 3D cancer cell culture model for testing new drugs, (this will be my master thesis project). I write this to thank you for two things, first the wonderful writing, and secondly your inspiring preserverance and self determination survive. If I ever need a reminder for why I should keep zelously doing my current job this was it. Keep strong keep true.

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