South Surrey cancer patient in ‘amazing spirits’ in U.S.

Brandon Durieux hoping to go into remission to allow for stem-cell transplant.

Brandon and Michelle Durieux are in Houston

Brandon and Michelle Durieux are in Houston

A South Surrey native who travelled to Texas earlier this month to seek treatment for an aggressive form of leukemia has started a “promising” new treatment this week.

Brandon Durieux and his wife, Michelle, – who received community support after sharing their story of Brandon’s cancer battle with Peace Arch News earlier this month – arrived at MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston Feb. 8. The trip is a last resort for the 24-year-old, who was first diagnosed last summer, after he was told by doctors in Vancouver they had exhausted treatment options.

Describing the 2½ weeks since they left as “a whirlwind,” Michelle said Wednesday from Texas that doctors got right to work trying to determine why his treatment back home had stopped working. They discovered Brandon had developed a secondary genetic mutation; even strong chemotherapy was having little effect on his blood counts.

“His cancer cells found another path to grow and multiply, even though they were being suppressed,” Michelle explained. “We didn’t know if it was good news or bad news, but at least it was an explanation as to why the other treatment stopped working.”

Doctors started Brandon on a new trial treatment Monday, which consists of five days of chemotherapy followed by a trial inhibitor drug designed to target both genetic mutations. The treatment is a 28-day cycle; around halfway through he will undergo a bone-marrow biopsy to assess how it is working.

Michelle said doctors feel “quite confident” that the treatment will get Brandon into remission, which will allow him to undergo a stem-cell transplant.

The treatment, however, comes with a huge price tag. While they are not being charged for the trial drug, the cost of the chemotherapy, blood work, transfusions and other related medical expenses is expected to be US$224,000.

If Brandon can undergo a stem-cell transplant, Michelle said that could cost a further $500,000 to $1.2 million.

Michelle said they have received no offers of financial support from Medical Services Plan of B.C., and have been consistently told experimental drugs are not covered by insurance.

“We’ve still been pushing the issue as much as we can, but we’re not really getting anywhere,” she said. “It’s pretty frustrating.”

Family and friends back home have been rallying to raise funds for the Durieuxes – a fundraising page online (www.gofundme.com/vzm5ejpt) has raised nearly $85,000 since it was launched a month ago.

Despite the financial costs, Michelle said Brandon has been “in amazing spirits.”

“He feels super fortunate to be here and is really happy about this new treatment,” she said. “We all have really good feelings about this. We feel like it’s going to work.”