It was just two days before the radiation treatment of his uveal melanoma, or eye cancer. Peter L. boarded a plane determined to have his tumor biopsied and tested by Dr. J. William Harbour, the ocular oncologist who developed a genomic test that could lay out his odds of survival. “For me, as a patient this counts big time…it sits in one’s mind all the time if you don’t know.
And Peter almost didn’t know. Dissatisfied that he wasn’t given information about treatment options or prognostic tests when he was diagnosed, Peter dug further for information online. He quickly learned about Dr. Harbour and his gene expression profile test, and that it had to be done before the radiation, since it can alter the tissue and render any results meaningless.
“Work, dreams, relationships, access to experimental treatment, and prioritizing my bucket list… for me, they all depended on that test result, so the stakes were high.”
Just two days before the procedure, Peter flew halfway across the country to see Dr. Harbour and have a biopsy. “Even if it was worst case scenario,” he says, “I wanted to know so I could get my life in order.”
For Peter, 56, this was a very difficult time. His business selling antique magazines and newspapers required constant reading to identify condition and content of the material for his clients. He had already been dealing with loss of vision in his left eye when he learned of the midsize tumor in his right eye—leaving only 25% of his vision intact.
Four weeks later the test results were in. Peter’s tumor was Class 1B, which meant his cancer had about a 21% chance of spreading. Knowing his Class helped Peter and his hematology oncologist plan an appropriate monitoring schedule to detect any metastasis as early as possible with the hope that prompt treatment could possibly extend survival. As well, prognostic test results would be necessary for eligibility in any future clinical trials.
Today, Peter is a tireless advocate for patients with uveal melanoma to also become knowledgeable about their disease and get tested. He’s active in online chat rooms, forums, and social networking sites educating people about their options. Peter says he doesn’t want anyone to be “too late and live with the stress of uncertainty the rest of their life.”
Now that he is better able to predict his survival and especially because he needed to deal with his vision loss, Peter decided to liquidate his current business in New Hampshire and return to his native Netherlands to be with his supportive family and friends. There, he will have better access to advanced public transportation and special tools and assistance for blind and low vision people. He has just finished up a course in molecular biology—again to arm himself further in his battle against cancer.