Today we introduce you to stage IV colorectal cancer survivor and Ph.D. scientist Dr. Tom Marsilje and kick off his new blog series, “The Currently Incurable Scientist” on the Fight CRC blog! Through our partnership with The Colon Club, we met Tom and immediately became impressed not only with his “insider” knowledge but his passion to help explain the science to patients in very practical, easy-to-understand terms. Tom graciously agreed to blog for us from his perspective as both a CRC patient and a researcher. 

Since this is my first blog for Fight Colorectal Cancer, I wanted to introduce myself and what I hope to accomplish with this new blog series, “The Currently Incurable Scientist.”


First the Basics:

My name is Dr. Tom Marsilje and I have “currently incurable” stage IV colon cancer. I am a Ph.D. researcher who’s performed oncology new drug discovery for over 20 years, including co-inventing an FDA-approved therapy for lung cancer… so I have a very unique viewpoint on cancer!

I’ve been a caregiver (my mother had pancreatic cancer), a researcher for decades and since 2012, I’ve been a Stage IV CRC patient myself. Cancer has truly wound its way throughout my life, in one form or another.

I have been writing a widely-read personal blog about life at the interface of being both a patient and an oncology scientist. I am also a model for the 2016 Colondar 2.0 being published next March by the Colon Club. It was at the Colondar 2.0’s incredible photoshoot/interview/patient retreat (we affectionately called it “Colon Camp”) that I met Danielle Burgess from Fight Colorectal Cancer and we came up with the idea for this new blog partnership! I am very grateful and excited that the close relationship between Fight Colorectal Cancer & The Colon Club brought us together!

Where I Would Like This Blog to Go:

happy-june-4th-v-3-0_colondar-familyOne thing I’ve noticed is that there is a need — no, more than that — a true thirst in the patient & caregiver community to learn and understand the science behind new CRC therapies and clinical trials. Having this information is empowering and it facilitates better informed medical discussions with a medical team.

I plan on covering a range of scientific topics including:  recent clinical trial results, new trials opening up and even a smattering of novel CRC drug strategies getting close but not quite yet entering the clinical trials phase yet.

I will not be focusing on early scientific research that is years away from clinical trials. I believe most of our readership will be interested in drugs that are already in clinical trials or which may enter trials in the next year.

How I Would Like to Get There:

This is where I think things will get interesting. I don’t plan on writing the standard, dry medical information site – there are plenty of other great places to read that! Perhaps because I am a scientist instead of MD, I plan to take some leeway and write about the science in easily understood terms with passion and excitement! I truly do love science and oncology research and I want that excitement to infuse into you along with the factual information I’ll be presenting!

In terms of oncology, I can honestly say there has never been as much true excitement in scientific circles about the incredible pace of new & exciting cancer drugs coming down pipelines as there is right now – from ever improving targeted therapies to the truly groundbreaking & paradigm shifting new wave of immunotherapies!

This is not hype.

Because of the advent of immunotherapies showing significant clinical activity just within the past few years against multiple tumor types (most recently seen in a MMR-deficient CRC preliminary clinical trial released at ASCO-2015!), the entire field of oncology drug discovery has experienced a seismic shift in just the past few years. Those in my field feel like we’re living in our “sputnik” moment.

The required technology & scientific pieces are now finally coming together and billions of dollars are now being spent by thousands of companies, research universities, cancer centers, public and private scientists – all with the shared goal to cure (yes, you heard me right, cure) significant percentages of adult cancers. This is a break from the traditional goals of treating advanced adult cancers, such as stage IV CRC, with the goal of relatively modest elongation of lifespan.

This is why I always describe myself as “currently incurable.” From my inside view, I can see so many promising new CRC drugs & strategies approaching or already in clinical trials, I can’t feel anything but optimistic that major CRC treatment breakthroughs are right around the corner! I am a firm believer that once you have a critical mass of both extreme levels of funding & smart minds across so many countries, companies, universities, research hospitals and cancer centers – the human race can solve amazingly complex problems – of which cancer is one of the biggest.

When it comes to cancer research, I believe we are currently living in that moment.

Will advances be made fast enough to save my own life? I firmly believe that most cases of advanced CRC will be cured within my wife’s lifetime – I hope (and believe there is a chance) that it may happen in my lifetime!

Why I Have Hope

There’s that word “HOPE” finally appearing in my post. From my insider’s view, I have a lot of HOPE and I hope that through my writing, the feeling will be infectious – because it should be!

In my next post I’ll begin tackling exciting fields of science starting with the next wave of experimental immunotherapies! Thank you for reading – I hope our time together in the coming months is informative, useful and dare I say it – fun & exciting – like all good science should be! To Life!

Join Fight CRC

If you’ve been impacted by colorectal cancer, we need you! Join us and use your experience, your story and your voice to create real change. Get started by signing up. Next, see all the ways you can do something about this disease and take steps to get connected with our community. Come fight with us.

9 comments on “The Currently Incurable Scientist: An Introduction”

  1. 1
    Shân on March 1, 2016

    Thank you Tom for all your work in explaining so succinctly and informatively the cure that is undoubtably just around the corner for those like me! (Stage IV distant lymph node metastasis currently being treated Folfiri +Avastin)

  2. 2
    Laura Wehrly on January 30, 2016

    You give much reason for optimism and hope with this post and much important information will be shared through this new blogventure. I will share this first blog post with my group of Young Colon Cancer Fighters so they can sign up, follow and especially learn of new opportunities as they emerge.

    New and more effective treatments are critical for so many people. I know that we also need to work in particular to give young people who have yet to be diagnosed with crc the chance to be screened so they can be diagnosed at earlier stages. Early stages are always more responsive to treatment and even with today’s treatments are preventable with early screening and curable with early treatment.

    Early detection for all, and better, more effective treatments! Awesome work, all of you research scientists out there and those who work to inform those who need this news ASAP for life, thanks. Tom, you are the rare bird who provides us with both!

  3. 3
    Joseph Mazor on August 23, 2015

    The sooner we beat this disease, the better. Keep up the fight!

  4. 4
    tom foeller on August 19, 2015

    Dr. Tom,
    I am a 9 yr. stage 3 rectal cancer survivor. I appreciate your work and for sharing your personal and professional story with us. You have a “pretty unique” position that gives you instant credibility and perspective.
    I look forward to future posts and wish YOU (and all of us stricken with this disease), the best of luck and the best that science can offer.
    tom foeller, Portland OR

  5. 5
    Tim Smith on August 6, 2015

    Great post Tom,

    I look forward to joining you on those “Crazy Tom” scientific ventures for many years to come. The search for knowledge is endless

  6. 6
    David Hangauer on July 27, 2015

    I am not a CRC patient, but rather Tom’s Ph.D. mentor. I just wanted to express how proud and happy I am to see Tom dive into the interface between CRC patients and the science that will benefit them. Tom is extremely well suited to the important task of bridging this interface in an understandable way, and his exceptional character has motivated him to do so.

  7. 7
    Jacqueline Lowe on July 17, 2015

    Hi my name is Jacqueline Lowe,

    I’m from Columbus, MS. I was diagnosed with stage 3 CRC May 2014. I had surgery October 20, 2014 to remove the cancer. It was a success. I had radiation and chemo prior to surgery and finished 6 rounds of chemo in June of this year. I am a cancer survivor. I enjoy reading your blog!!!!

    Thanks!!! : )

  8. 8
    Maia on July 14, 2015

    There is a true thirst, indeed, in the patient & caregiver community to understand the science behind new CRC therapies and clinical trials. Specifically, *immunotherapies* offer real HOPE, they are a game changer. The main immunotherapies cancer researchers have been saying this, during these past two years. The sooner we understand immunotherapies, the earlier many might benefit. I’ve been waiting during years for a ‘voice’ like yours, to appear -some of us share your views, but we lack the authority and the background to be taken seriously.
    I have not words to tell how happy I am that you’ll be writing about this. Just big thank you, for doing this. : )

  9. 9
    Jill Fredrickson on July 14, 2015

    You are a hero to me thank you for all your selfless time you dedicate. This is a gift.

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