September 30, 1949 - January 29th, 2018

On Monday, January 29th, DMRF was saddened by the passing of the face of this year's Molly Appeal Campaign for Cancer Research, Mr. Duncan Searle.  Not only were we impressed by Duncan's story of battling cancer since 2014, we were moved by the devotion and love of his family, and inspired by his humour and tenacity.   For those of you lucky enough to hear Duncan speak at our Molly Appeal Luncheon last October, you can surely attest to the wit and wisdom of this sincere man.  

We hope you'll take a moment to read the story of Duncan's journey living with cancer (see below).  Duncan and his family always recognized the importance of medical research and the extra time it gave them together. 

On behalf of DMRF, we send gratitude, respect, and care to the Searle family.  Duncan, you will not be forgotten.

OBITUARY - Duncan Searle


Targeted cancer treatments arrive just in time for Nova Scotia man

Strange as it may seem, cancer saved Duncan Searle's life.

In 2014, the then 64-year-old retired schoolteacher discovered in a routine screening that he had colon cancer. Thankfully, the disease was caught early and removed before it could spread.

Follow-up imaging studies, however, revealed a more deadly concern - the radiologist noticed shadows in Duncan's lung and sacrum. Further analysis showed that the cancer in his lung was completely separate from the now-cured colon cancer, and that the cancer in the sacrum had spread there from the primary tumour in the lung.

The news was a shock to Duncan, who had never smoked in his life. At the same time, he and his wife Leslie are immensely grateful the lung cancer was discovered when it was . "if it hadn't been for the colon cancer,' notes Duncan, "it would have been too late to stop the lung cancer by the time it was found."

As it was, the lung cancer was already stage four, but timing would once again work in Duncan's favour.

"The pathologist in Halifax, Dr. Wenda Greer, analyzed my tumour and discovered I had a genetic mutation that a new targeted therapy had recently been approved to treat," Duncan says. "My oncologist, Dr. Mary MacNeil, started me on a pill, gefitinib, and the cancer started to disappear from my sacrum and my lungs."

Thanks to this personalized treatment, targeted to his specific mutation, Duncan regained his life. Even though the rashes, infections and skin lesions he experienced on gefitinib were uncomfortable, he and Leslie, a professional classical singer and voice teacher, went back to enjoying their active life in Toney River near Pictou, Nova Scotia. That is, until metastases showed up in Duncan's spine and brain. Radiation in 2016 knocked his cancer back, but he still needed a solution for the fact that the gefitinib was losing its ability to keep cancer at bay. But yet again, time was on his side.

"They analyzed and re-analyzed my biopsies and found a new mutation," he recalls. "Fortunately for me, there was another new targeted therapy coming available, osimertinib, just in time."

Dr. MacNeil contacted the pharmaceutical company, Astra Zeneca, to see if they could provide the medication to Duncan free of charge, on compassionate grounds. The company was willing and has been shipping a supply to Duncan like clockwork every month.

"It was such an enormous relief to find there was another new drug available - if I had been this sick even just six months earlier, it would have been too late," Duncan marvels. "As it was, I started feeling better within five days of starting the drug and have been feeling pretty good ever since!"

The importance of research hits home with Duncan and Leslie, who feel as if they've been driving along right behind the snowplow - the plow being the research that is clearing the way in the storm that is his cancer. They are enthusiastic about supporting Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation's 2017-18 Molly Appeal, which is raising funds to advance the kind of personalized medicine that has kept Duncan alive and well far beyond what his doctors had initially predicted.

"When Dr. MacNeil saw me in the spring of 2014, she said I could expect to live another three to six months," he says. "but then just a short while later, she called to tell me about this new drug and said it was possible I could go on for years... well, I intend to! I'm grateful that we have this groundbreaking research happening right here in the Maritimes at Dalhousie Medical School."