Brent Pearce is in a fight for his life and could use community assistance to help him win the battle against cancer.
On June 23, the 32-year-old underwent “debulking” surgery in Calgary, an operation in which all of his large bowel, part of his small bowel, spleen and the lining of his abdomen were removed, and the abdomen treated with a 90-minute hot-chemo wash.
Doctors believe the many tumours that are thought to have originated in his appendix have been growing inside his abdomen for many years.
This form of cancer is rare and the cutting-edge surgery performed by few in Canada.
“It’s something like one in a million (cancer diagnoses), although Dr. (Walley) Temple thinks it is much more common,” says Brent of the chief of Surgical Oncology at University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine, who performed his surgery.
The first indication Brent was ill was a morning in late March when he awoke with a grossly distended abdomen.
“I literally looked like a pregnant woman, but there had never been any pain,” he says. “The surgeon said a lot of people think they have a beer belly, but by that time, it’s end-stage cancer.”
Without surgery, the young husband and father was told he would not survive beyond November.
The family is relying on the surgery, combined with upcoming rounds of chemotherapy to give Brent at least five years, if not a complete cure.
But buying time for the young man will be extremely costly.
One of the drugs Brent needs is covered by the province for women only, not men. A lifetime of blood thinners will cost $25 a day. Ostomy bag supplies will be another lifetime expense.
Then there are the drugs needed now to stimulate appetite, reduce acidity and control diarrhea. Although the province will pay a portion of some of what Brent needs, their situation is complicated.
The swollen belly episode occurred on Grand Cayman Island, where the family was living. They were within a week of moving back to B.C. Their house had been sold, airline tickets purchased, and Blue Cross coverage arranged to begin on the day of their return to B.C., coverage that would replace the insurance benefits the family had in the Caribbean country.
Instead, Brent, his wife Ruth and two young sons had to remain in the Caymans for several more days in order for Brent to consult with and receive treatment from a local gastroenterologist – treatment that included the removal of liquid from his belly for testing in a Florida lab.
The family was already back in Salmon Arm when the cancer diagnosis was confirmed by those tests.
Because the cancer was diagnosed outside the country, Blue Cross deemed Brent’s disease to have been a pre-existing condition and denied coverage for it.
Now completely stranded financially, except for their own rapidly disappearing savings, the couple were extremely grateful that an MLA helped them get back on B.C.’s Medical Service Plan.
PharmaCare is however, another issue.
“They can’t verify our income because we were out of country,” says a worried Ruth.
The couple is also grateful to Kamloops doctors who, despite numerous biopsies, were unable to determine what type of cancer Brent had. They handed his case to a provincial oncology panel which referred him to Calgary for the 11-hour surgery.
“The closer it got (to the surgery) the harder it got,” he says. “There was a good chance of dying on the table.”
Adds Ruth, “It was one of most stressful days I’ve ever had.”
Feeling decidedly better than before surgery, Brent is resting up and trying to bulk up for the months of chemo ahead.
He was treated with general-attack chemo drugs while doctors tried to determine the specific form of cancer and he is dreading the effect it will have on his body. He looks down at the tubes that will continue to extend from his abdomen for another month.
“They want to make sure I’m in the clear, can eat and hold it down,” he says.
Brent will return to Calgary Aug. 23 for a checkup and more detailed prognosis. In the meantime, he continues to be concerned for himself and his family.
“I don’t know what to expect; did they get most of it or all of it?” he asks, looking lovingly at his wife and sons. “You want to be there for everybody, but you just don’t know.”
Those who wish to help take the financial pressure off this young family may do so by making a donation to an account that has been set up at the Salmon Arm Savings and Credit Union – Account #1518554 in trust for Brent Pearce and Family.