A Red Deer man diagnosed with fatal cancer began an experimental treatment in Vancouver on Thursday that might buy him some time.
Ultimately, he wants to try to get a costly treatment in Arizona.
Jason Kom-Tong, 35, has an aggressive Stage 4 tongue cancer. He was given three months to live in October.
“Because he’s considered terminal — he only has a short time to live — now he’s allowed to look at different options like experimental treatments,” his wife Bambi Kom-Tong said on Thursday.
She drove her husband to B.C. recently and he is staying with relatives while he receives treatment.
Bambi, 32, is back in Red Deer, at home with their two children, Zack, six, and Kisenya, four.
A local fundraising drive began recently to try to cover the $175,000 cost of treatment in Arizona they hope will give Jason a chance of surviving. The numbers are not finalized but about $70,000 may have been raised so far.
Jason has already had extensive surgery and treatment at University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.
He has undergone tongue reconstruction using arm and leg muscles, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He had a second surgery to remove his tongue, and a reconstruction again using his own muscles. His lower jaw was removed. He has had to learn how to walk again because a bone from his lower leg was used to reconstruct his jaw.
The couple had been searching for other treatment in Canada. “We asked for any kind of experimental treatment. This was the only place that they offered us,” she said of the Vancouver treatment, which involves a new drug.
“Your cancer has a marker that hides it from the immune system. … This drug goes into the blood stream and blocks the cancer-hiding marker. It stops the cancer from hiding. … Essentially it kickstarts your own immune system to start attacking the cancer,” she said.
Jason’s treatment lasts about five hours per day — the drug is administered intravenously — and then he goes home.
“He’s got his mom and his sister out there so he’s well taken care of,” Bambi said.
“(Doctors) don’t think that this immunotherapy … will stop (the cancer) but it will buy him time. It’s going quickly. You have to remember this all happened one year ago in October … this has gone so quickly.”
Bambi said they hope the Vancouver treatment buys enough time that all the funds for the treatment in Arizona at the Envita Medical Centre can be raised. There Jason would receive several kinds of individualized therapy to fight the cancer. One of the treatments was to be immunotherapy, which he is getting in Vancouver.
Jason, who cannot speak, breathes through a tube in his trachea and sometimes has difficulty breathing when the tube gets plugged. “It’s terrifying,” said Bambi, who describes their lives as “very roller-coaster.”
“Right now I can tell you I feel spread very thin. I feel honestly useless out here. I feel like I’m not helpful. It’s hard being away from him when I’ve been with him the whole time.”
Jason’s treatment in Vancouver is for five months or until it’s no longer working.
“If they test him in eight weeks and they say, ‘Hey you know what, this actually isn’t slowing it down, this is pointless,’ essentially then he won’t be taking it any longer and he’ll come home. But I’m hoping everything will go well and he will be out there for the five months.”
Bambi said the community response in Red Deer is “astounding.”
“Red Deer has an amazing community. They have gone out of their way to help us. People are sharing our story. Seems like almost the whole community has shared it. Can you imagine that? It’s crazy.”
More information and updates on the Kom-Tongs’ situation is available on a Facebook page that has gathered 1,400 members, “Online Auction to support the Kom-tong family,” and fundraising continues to take place online at gofundme.com/hdrsdw.
A fundraising event that included an online auction was held on Saturday at Bo’s Bar and Grill.