Innovative immunotherapy improving quality of life for Lantzville teen with cancer

WatchA Lantzville teenager and her family are facing the unthinkable as she battles a rare form of cancer. There is usually little hope of survival but thanks to an experimental treatment 17 year old Michelle Reilly has seen an improvement in her quality of life.

Michelle Reilly used to play competitive high school volleyball, and while she still enjoys the sport today, she can only play at home in a wheelchair.

It’s been a bumpy road for the now 17-year-old Lantzville teenager and her family that began in the spring of 2018.

“So she came to me one day and said it felt like her foot was falling asleep and it had been like that for a week and never kind of woke up and that was the first kind of symptom,” said Reilly’s mother Carla Thomson.

Months later, they received a shocking diagnosis. Michelle had a tumour on her spine. It was Glioblastoma Multiforme and with it came a grim prognosis for survival. Most people with this type of cancer live approximately 15 months.

“So when we did get the results back it was pretty devastating for everybody,” said Thomson.

“When I first got diagnosed I never thought that it would happen to me,” said Michelle Reilly. “I was obviously just in denial the whole time.”

After the diagnosis, she had surgery, chemo, and radiation but the real hope lay in something new that doctors felt her tumour might respond to.

Michelle had been enrolled in BC Cancer’s Personalized Onco-Genomics (POG) Program, funded by generous donors. Experts had sequenced the entire DNA of her tumour and discovered it might respond to innovative immunotherapy.

Michelle’s immune system was given a boost to attack her cancer and she made incredible progress, enjoying time with family and friends. Six months after starting immunotherapy, Michelle was able to walk again with the aid of arm supports.

“The tumor actually started to shrink so she was doing better, throughout the summer she was walking even without her walking crutches, she was swimming, she was doing so well,” said Thomson.

Now 17, Michelle and her family aren’t sure what the future holds. Her tumour recently started progressing again, but she has a positive outlook and is hopeful that her care team can once again use her POG findings to identify another effective course of treatment.

Innovative therapies at BC Cancer have gifted Michelle more time with her loved ones.

Carla will also be speaking at the BC Cancer Foundation’s Jingle Mingle event this Thursday, November 28th at The Fairmont Empress Hotel, which is raising funds to bring a unique innovative therapies unit to BC Cancer – Victoria. The 13th annual holiday event will raise funds to help launch the unit, with a primary goal of launching more clinical trials, and greater access for more patients.

Currently, there are six trials available in Victoria. With philanthropic support, BC Cancer will quadruple this amount to 24 in the next two years, giving oncologists more options to better treat their patients.

More information about Michelle’s journey and a link to donate can be found here.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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