News

Healthy enough to fight. No funds to do it.

By Cheryl Clock, The Standard

Time and money. Phil Secord’s life depends on having more of both.

The 31-year-old St. Catharines father and husband needs money to buy the drugs that could save his life, or at least give him some more time.

He is well enough to fight. Well enough, now, to fight. In an instant, that could change. 

The question is, will the drugs come in time? Will his body give him the time it will take to raise enough money for a chance at life. A chance to fight.

That’s all he wants. A chance.

Today marks the first anniversary of his diagnosis with leukemia. A year ago, doctors gave him about a year to live.

It’s hard not to do the math. 

“I try not to think about it,” he says.

But he does. 

Just ask his wife and best advocate, Amberley Secord, 27. “When someone places that year mark over your head, when it comes to that point, you’re terrified,” she says.

“You think, OK, so is it any day now?”

Amberley is unstoppable. She has written letters to politicians, with little response. She has filled in countless amounts of paperwork, for funds that never seem to materialize. She has posted videos, and photos, trying to generate attention to their plight. 

And still, nothing.

This past Tuesday, Phil made the twice-weekly trek to Hamilton’s Juravinski hospital for bloodwork, and the subsequent infusion of blood, platelets and electrolytes.

He was given bad news. His white blood cell count is dangerously low, much lower than even the week before. It effectively opens the door for leukemia to barge in like an intruder lurking in the side bushes.

It’s a game of numbers. And when his numbers land on zero, which is where they’re headed, it will be impossible to keep the door locked. The leukemia at bay.

He refused a suggestion to be admitted to hospital. He wants to be at home, to spend time with his nine-month-old daughter, Ellie.

Home is where his spirit heals, says Amberley.

And so today, he will replace the memories of a year ago with new, everyday moments with Ellie. He will find joy in the ordinary moments on fatherhood, like taking a fussy baby on a drive to Tim Hortons.

One year ago, Phil went for bloodwork because his body was covered in bruises. “It looked like someone had taken a bat to him,” says Amberley.

He had worked the night shift in the blast furnace at Dofasco, and told co-workers that he felt a little tired. That he was just out of shape. Truth is, he was exhausted. Had been for a while. And for the last while, he couldn’t eat the big lunches that Amberley had packed for him.

When the bloodwork came back, his doctor sent him to the emergency department. He told Phil: “How are you still walking and breathing?”

A year later, Phil is still well enough to fight. And he wants to throw some serious punches to the face of a rare leukemia that has managed to elude some of the strongest chemotherapy drugs available to him. 

He lives simultaneously with two types of blood cancers — acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia. This spring, he had a bone marrow transplant, but the disease only returned, stronger.

The fight that he desperately wants to have, costs a lot of money. More money than he can dream of owning.

There’s a chance a drug in Canada called Yervoy, usually reserved for people with melanoma, could help Phil. Because it’s not officially approved to treat leukemia, Phil would have to pay for it himself, and it would be given in a private clinic, says Amberley.

Total cost: $600,000. She has filled out more paperwork, asking drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb, to reduce the price on compassionate grounds.

A second option is a clinical trial at a cancer centre in New York. An appointment date was set. A consultation with a lead, hematologic oncologist booked. Travel plans to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center were excitedly discussed. But everything was put on hold because he couldn’t raise the required $1-million deposit. 

And OHIP rejected a request to fund the consultation part of the treatment.

So, Phil is left in limbo. In a sad, distressing paradox of being strong enough to fight, but with time running out on the likelihood of a successful treatment.

If leukemia shows up in his blood, the Canadian drug becomes ineffective, says Amberley.

“We’re right on that breaking point because his numbers are so low,” she says.  

“It’s a moot point. It’s out of the window.

“Then you’re back at Square 1, back to (talking about) a hospice. Back to the let’s-make-him-comfortable. Or hit him again with hard chemotherapy but the odds of that being effective or him surviving that are slim to none.”

Cclock@postmedia.com

TO DONATE

Anyone who'd like to donate to Fight 4 Phil, visit www.gofundme.com/b6y4hcuk or contact Amberley directly at amberley_gaspich@hotmail.com

 

Amberley Secord has created her own video, appealing to the world, or whoever is listening, to help save her husband, Phil. He is running out of time to raise funds for a treatment for a rare type of leukemia.