KUSA – Cancer does not discriminate. Sometimes it chooses the young and the healthy, and while cancer may take a life, it can never take away the gift that some choose to leave behind.
Jerry Evans was a life-long athlete, pilot and adventurer. He never expected to be a cancer patient.
“He was such an active, active person,” said Jerry’s wife, Suzi. “Riding, skiing, running, being outside – that was our life.”
In 2014, Suzi noticed her husband, an avid cyclist, was having trouble finishing rides he used to be able to complete. Jerry soon developed a lingering cough and a blood clot in his leg which prompted a trip to the hospital in Grand Junction. Doctors there incorrectly diagnosed Jerry with lymphatic cancer and then liver cancer. Jerry and Suzi sought a second opinion from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston which revealed something entirely different.
“After the first x-ray they said, ‘we’re really sorry to tell you this but your left lung is full of fluid,’” Suzi recalled.
Jerry had stage four lung cancer. Doctors started him on chemotherapy, though his body did not respond to the treatment. Turns out, Jerry had a rare, molecular change in his cancer called a “ROS1 gene rearrangement.” A search for trial studies led Jerry and Suzi to Dr. Ross Camidge at the University of Colorado Hospital. Jerry began a new treatment, which seemed to work at first.
“For whatever physiological reason he developed a resistance to the therapy,” Suzi said.
Jerry passed away on a Sunday in December of 2015 at home with his wife in Grand Junction.
“He was comfortable and we were together,” Suzi said. “He was sitting in the chair and he stopped breathing.”
Suzi said she knew what Jerry would have wanted her to do, so she did it. She picked up the phone and called Jerry’s oncologist, Dr. Camidge, with a question he was surprised to hear.
“Would any of the cancer tissue be useful now, even though Jerry has passed on, could you learn something from that that might help others?” Dr. Camidge said, recalling Suzi’s question.
The answer was yes. Suzi allowed doctors to study Jerry’s body and collect tissue samples so they could see how his cancer changed.
“If they don’t have tissue samples, if they don’t have things to put under the microscope, it’s trial and error, trial and error, trial and error,” Suzi explained.
What doctors learn from Jerry’s body could lead to new drugs for patients down the road.
“While Jerry didn’t get an opportunity to benefit from that knowledge, he’s contributing data that is absolutely going to help other people,” said Dr. Camidge.
Suzi said the clinical autopsy helped her cope and better understand the loss of her husband.
“It doesn’t change any of the outcome,” she said, “but understanding helps a whole lot.”
The ultimate gift Jerry gave is one he could never have given in life, and it’s the legacy he now leaves behind.