MARK WATKINS has never smoked. Never worked in a high risk industry.
He leads an active life, eats well and looks after himself.
He looks after his wife Korryne and their two children – Jim and Luis.
And he has lung cancer.
Not just any lung cancer, but stage four and his cancer is the Ros-1 mutation.
Barely 15 per cent of people diagnosed will survive the next five years.
Mark was only 41 when he got this crippling news from his doctor and incredibly, with such a hard luck story, it has been good luck through the timing of medical trials that have continued to give him the gift of life.
Faced with his mortality and a bleak diagnosis Mark and his beautiful family have thankfully continued to defy the odds.
That he is here today to tell his story is nothing short of a miracle and he firmly believes he owes his life to a combination of medical intervention (especially Opdivo), a strong and powerful mind set and fair bit of what appears to be ‘in the right place at the right time’.
“I just couldn’t believe it. How could I have lung cancer when I have never smoked? I was reasonably fit and healthy. I was working, practicing karate at the time and it really just came out of the blue, but as time has gone on, I have had to learn to live with it,” Mark said.
“In some ways it has been a gift and given me an entirely new perspective on life. It has made me reflect on what is important to me and as a person – a father and husband, I am much more present. I allow my boys to be who they need to be and I value every single second I spend with them.
“If I was to die next week, next month or next year, I know I will have lived a life of happiness instead of being angry and afraid. Time really does slow down when you live in the moment and I know that sounds a bit hippy but it is true and I have found mindfulness to be very helpful for me.”
Every step that Mark has taken in this battle his wife Korryne has been by his side. Together they have shared triumph and despair and they will continue to do so, with support from their families who have been an integral part of their journey.
“I have watched Mark deal with all of this and I think you are entitled to feel cheated and angry. Of course his eyes fill with tears when he thinks of his family but he has handled it all in the most outstanding way, he doesn’t get angry and I am so in awe of him,” Korryne said.
The particular cancer that Mark has is rare, aggressive and doesn’t respond well to chemo.
Initially Mark was treated with drugs that inhibit protein growth that feeds the cancer.
“I had a tumor removed and was lucky enough to be put on a trial for a drug called crizotinib — there was two days left on that trial before it closed.
“Doctors didn’t know how long it would work for so we thought let’s go and build some memories with the kids (crizotinib worked for 12 months). We travelled along the East Coast of Australia in a caravan. We got as far as Cairns and then had to return because the tumor had started to grow again.”
Returning to Peter Mac, professor Ben Solomon and the medical team decided to try chemo.
Mark went on to spend two-and-a-half horrible months enduring chemo, having a serious adverse reaction on his first cycle and constant overnight hospital stays with next to zero white blood cell counts, when a trial for another protein inhibiting drug lorlatinib came up.
Mark was able to gain two years of relative good health through crizotinib and then lorlatinib but late last year the tumors began to grow again.
The medical team then recommended another new class of drug, an immunotherapy treatment called Keytruda along with more chemo.
The couple were very keen to follow that path until they found out it was going to cost them $130,000 a year.