Pictured: Howard Everson and GMRF Senior Clinical Trial Coordinator Bronwyn Casey share some celebratory chocolate for the final day on trial.
For Howard Everson, the most life-threatening of situations started in the most innocuous beginnings. A small, red scab on the side of his temple. After his wife Pat brought it to his attention, Howard dutifully had it checked, but he hadn’t expected the results; primary melanoma.
“Immediately, I saw melanoma as a death sentence. My expectation was that I wouldn’t make it to 70,” said Howard, who was 69 years old at the time of diagnosis.
The melanoma was aggressive and the prognosis bleak. Howard’s wife remembers the family GP tell her “Start making your plans now, Howard will be gone by Christmas.” That was in November 2012.
From that point, the cancer progressed at an alarming rate. Treatment wasn’t working, and the doctors continued finding more tumours in Howard’s lungs. It was then that he was given an unexpected option by one of his doctors, Dr Victoria Atkinson, a primary investigator working with our Clinical Trials Unit. There was a new clinical trial for a drug which, at that point in time, had not been trialled anywhere in the world.
“I got involved in a trial through the GMRF Clinical Trials Unit in February 2013. I was going to be the first in the world in this trial, but two patients in Norway began the trial just days before I did.” Howard says.
Narrowly missing the ‘world-first’ title didn’t bother Howard because the treatment appeared to be working.
“I had no prior knowledge of clinical trials, but I was extremely grateful to be on this one,” he says, “The doctor said if the diagnosis had been 12 months prior there was nothing they could have done for me.”
Through the treatment at GMRF Clinical Trial Unit, and the Cyril Gilbert Cancer Centre at Greenslopes Private Hospital, things were starting to look more positive.
But the battle was far from over. While on trial, doctors found two tumours on Howard’s brain which had to be surgically removed. Added to this, more tumours were found in his lungs, a staggering 23 in total.
“I was given months to live, and yet I kept on going. I felt like I was living on borrowed time.”
With encouraging results indicated by his doctors, Howard continued ‘borrowing time’ year after year on the GMRF trial. Fast forward to today and how many tumours are in Howard’s body? Zero.
In February this year we caught up with Howard for his final day of treatment, marking the end of five years on trial. It was a day for celebrations and chocolate cake.
“I’m very positive for the future. I will still be monitored on a regular basis with scans and blood tests, but that’s it for this trial,” Howard says.
Howard and his wife are now looking at taking a well-deserved holiday down the east coast of America.
This has been a land-mark trial in proving melanoma responds better to immunotherapy based treatments than chemotherapy. Based on the overwhelming success of treatment, the trial drug has now been approved for the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme. We are incredibly proud of our Clinical Trials Unit for this outstanding result.
CLICK HERE For more information about the GMRF Clinical Trials Unit
Like this article? Sign up to our mailing list to receive news & updates from GMRF