Gordon Kumson* had been a truck driver for a fruit and vegetable company for about 10 years when he first realized something was wrong. The 46-year-old, originally from Ghana, was speaking to a friend and on his way home when he lost consciousness and found himself in the hospital. It happened again at work a month later and he was brought to an emergency room. They referred him to The Neuro where he was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Kumson was put under the care of neurosurgeon Dr. Kevin Petrecca, who is leading an international clinical trial for intraoperative radiotherapy — delivering radiation during surgery.
After the tumour is removed by a neurosurgeon, a special X-ray source is placed inside the skull. Radiation is conventionally given only weeks after surgery, but this gives the cancer cells a chance to regrow. Giving radiation during surgery improves the patient’s chances of remaining cancer free.
Dr. Petrecca is the principal investigator, which includes medical professionals from The Neuro, the McGill University Health Centre Medical Physics Unit and the Cancer Research Program (CRP) of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC).
On Oct. 11, 2018, Kumson became the first person in Canada to have intraoperative radiotherapy for brain cancer. Now, nearly eight months later, there is no sign of the cancer returning and Kumson says he feels well.
“I'm doing great,” he says. “So I'm happy. I would say it's magic because I didn't believe that at this time I would still be here.”
While patients like Kumson benefit from clinical trials by having early access to the latest treatments, the patients also play a valuable role in assessment and refinement of new therapies. His clinical trial is still years away from completion, but with the participation of patients like him, it may one day become standard practice around the world.
“If they saved my life today, maybe they can save thousands of people’s lives tomorrow,” he says.
*Update: Sadly, Mr. Kumson passed away on December 3, 2019.