Marwan was a thriving, respected top medical student in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. He was passionate about his work and loved his patients even more. In March 2020, one week before the world shut down, he was diagnosed with stage 4 fusion positive alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma in his pelvis. When he was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to his lungs, multiple vertebrae along the spine and other bones throughout his body.
Prognosis was dismal and no words of encouragement ensued. Regardless, the chances weren’t 0% and as a family we decided to pursue conventional treatment which consists of some of the most brutal chemotherapy there is. His treatment was led from the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada. He was told that as an adult, rhabdomyosarcoma is more aggressive and less responsive but nonetheless this was the best option for him. He was told adults cannot tolerate more than 10 cycles of chemotherapy, but Marwan soldiered on to take 14 cycles of VAC, 2 cycles of Irinotecan/vincristine and 1 cycle of etoposide/ifosfamide. All 17 cycles failed to tame the relentless beast.
Fever, neutropenia, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, broken bones, back pain, emotional distress, COVID isolation, lonely hospital visits, even lonelier hospitalizations, watching the world move on, his future disappear, his body fall apart. Those are just SOME of the things he experienced fighting this monster.
Immunotherapy was our only option. A brave and compassionate doctor in China, Dr. Lung-Ji Chang was willing to treat Marwan as part of a clinical trial. We were told that patients with low disease burden respond the best and while Marwan was not the best candidate, we were out of options and he wanted to try a non chemotherapy option he believed in. We managed to get a VISA to China in the middle of a worldwide pandemic which in and of itself seemed like a miracle and finally we were so close to treatment.
Four days before he was supposed to receive a groundbreaking CAR T cell therapy an MRI scan showed a shocking 5cm metastasized tumor to the cerebellum that rendered the therapy more harm than good. Sadly, Marwan died without trying the CAR T cell therapy but with the full belief in its potential to heal future patients suffering with rhabdomyosarcoma.
By the end, Marwan’s primary tumor was gone but there were metastasis to the lungs, entire spine, ribs (of which he broke himself upon examining the rib), kidneys, soft tissue (too many spots to list), femur, colon, right eye and cerebellum. He died yes, but the cancer died with him too and for that we are grateful the suffering is done.